Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pebble Initiative Lawsuits Shuffled to January Calendar

Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock will hold a scheduling hearing on Jan. 10 in a case challenging the legality of an initiative approved by Southwest Alaska voters that could halt development of the Pebble copper, gold and molybdenum mine.

Scheduling had been set for Nov. 7, but parties to the lawsuit agreed to the delay so that some of the litigation could be consolidated into one lawsuit.

By a vote of 280-246, voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough approved in October a ban on large-scale resource extraction that would have an adverse affect on salmon habitat. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to develop the mine, had tried unsuccessfully to keep the initiative off of the ballot on Oct. 4, alleging that the initiative was unenforceable as a matter of law. Then on Oct. 28, the state of Alaska sued to invalidate the results of the initiative. The state claims that the initiative is illegal because of the state’s authority to government management and development of mineral resources.

Attorney General John Burns said in a statement that this case is not about state support for or against the mine project, but rather “about upholding the state’s constitutional authority and responsibility to evaluate whether, on balance, development of Alaska’s resources is beneficial to all Alaskans.”

Proponents of the mine say that the Pebble Limited Partnership should be allowed to go through the permitting process before a decision is made on whether to allow for development of the mine.

Opponents, including many in the commercial fishing industry, sport angler groups and subsistence fishermen and hunters, are concerned that pollution from the mine could destroy the Bristol Bay salmon fisheries.

Meanwhile a new poll released by the Bristol Bay Native Corp., which represents more than 9,000 Alaska Native shareholders, says 54 percent of all Alaskans oppose the Pebble mine, compared to 32 percent who support it.

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