Election officials in Southwest Alaska’s Lake and Peninsula Borough plan to release results Oct. 17 on an Oct. 4 election initiative that could bar permitting for large mines that would have a significant adverse impact on salmon streams.
The Save Our Salmon initiative’s aim is to halt development of the Pebble copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery.
Mine proponents maintain that available technology would allow the mine to operate without disrupting the fisheries, which are critical to the region’s commercial, sport and subsistence fishing economies.
Mine opponents, including biologists who have studied salmon habitat in the region for decades, contend that the project threatens spawning streams critical to the diverse salmon populations whose combined strength return millions of salmon to Bristol Bay annually.
When the Pebble Limited Partnership challenged the legal right of the borough to put the initiative on the ballot, Trustees for Alaska filed a friend of the court brief stating in part that Pebble “would have this court disenfranchise hundreds of votes of Alaska Natives protected by the Voting Right Act by denying them the ability to cast a vote on an initiative that has been lawfully certified by the borough clerk.”
Once the election results are announced, Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock is expected to again review motions for summary judgment on whether the initiative should have been placed on the ballot in the first place.
Lake and Peninsula Borough Manager Lamar Cotten said that if Suddock comes down in favor of the Pebble Limited Partnership that the borough will sue and take the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.
If the people enact a law through the initiative process, the borough assembly has a duty to defend the action of the people, said Cotten.