Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Alaska Supreme Court Approves Putting Salmon Initiative on November Ballot

The Alaska Supreme Court has reversed a lower court decision on the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative and ordered that it be placed on the November 6 general election ballots, except for two provisions that were ruled out by the judges.

In the decision handed down on August 8, the judges deleted two sentences on grounds that they would encroach on the discretion over allocation decisions delegated to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Alaskans are divided in their opinions on the Stand for Salmon initiative, for which proponents turned in some 49,500 signatures to the Division of Elections in Anchorage on January 16.

Initiative backers say it offers stronger protections for fish habitat. Opponents contend that it will have an adverse impact on business development.

Opposition to the initiative is led by Stand for Alaska, which includes eight Alaska Native regional corporations formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and the ANCSA Regional Corp., as well as numbers businesses affiliated with the oil and gas and mining industries. The Bristol Bay Fishermen’s Association (BBFA) has also filed a brief in the Alaska Supreme Court opposing the initiative.

A complete list of Stand for Alaska supporters is posted online at Stand for Alaska to date has raised upwards of $8 million, compare to less than $1 million by Stand for Salmon, according to reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Major contributions totaling more than $1 million toward defeating the initiative came from BP Exploration Alaska, Donlin Gold, Teck Alaska (owner of the Red Dog Mine), Kinross Fort Knox and Sumitomo Metal mining, owner of the Pogo Mine.

According to Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, the supreme court decision “confirmed the state’s understanding of the initiative power and its limitations. That limitation extends to the legislature’s power to allocate the state’s resources – including fisheries and waters – among competing uses.”

In this case, said Lindemuth, “It would have prohibited development of any project that would substantially damage anadromous waters (i.e. waters that support migrating fish such as salmon) and presumed that all waters are anadromous unless proven otherwise. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the state that this effectively allocated use of the waters for fish to the exclusion of other uses, such as mining.”

Stand for Alaska meanwhile issued a statement saying the high court’s decision “validates just how flawed and poorly crafted the measure is” and reaffirmed its opposition to the initiative.

“The court severed two sentences on provisions that prohibit certain permitting decisions,” said Valerie Brown, legal director for the nonprofit environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska. “What that means is a decision to deny a permit is not required, but it is within the discretion of Fish and Game to deny a permit. Otherwise the rest of the initiative goes forward.”

Brown added, “If it passes it will mean we will have public notice and public comment and that the court also preserves the habitat protection standard, so for the first time we have standards that the Department of Fish and Game has to apply when they are making permitting decisions.”

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