Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mining Initiative

A court battle is brewing between the Lake and Peninsula Borough in Southwest Alaska and the Pebble Limited Partnership over an initiative that aims to prohibit development of large-scale mining activities within the borough. Oral arguments in the case are set for June 23 in Superior Court in Anchorage before Superior Court Judge John Suddock.

Borough officials have said they feel the initiative is valid and that voters should be allowed whether to approve it or not.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, which hopes to get the mine permitted and develop it, has asked the court for a summary judgment, which would prevent the “Save Our Salmon” initiative from getting on the ballot.

Legal counsel for the Pebble Limited Partnership argues in its brief that the borough clerk improperly certified an application for an initiative petition in violation of various constitutional and statutory provisions. The proposed initiative would amend the borough’s development permitting code by adding a land use permit requirement precluding permits for certain large-scale development projects, such as mining, the brief argues. If enacted, the initiative would make a substantial change to the borough’s land use code and completely bypass the borough planning commission’s mandatory review and recommendation obligations, the brief goes on to say. “Because the borough assembly could not pass such an ordinance without involving the planning commission, neither can the electorate,” they argue. The 33-page brief goes on to argue that the Save Our Salmon initiative treats large-and-small-scale resource extraction differently even though they both have the potential for impacting the borough’s fisheries resources.

The Pebble Limited Partnership meanwhile has said its work plan for the current year will focus on advancing a prefeasibility study for the Pebble deposit. The company expects to complete its prefeasibility study near year, laying the groundwork to present a detailed project design to develop the mine. Opponents of the project, including a number of Bristol Bay fishermen, fear that the mine has great potential to adversely impact the fishery.

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