The sponsors of a controversial ballot initiative to bar large metallic mines in Alaska from discharging certain pollutants into streams inhabited by salmon or used for drinking water asked the state to withdraw it Friday.
The initiative was the first of two so-called "clean water" proposed laws that opponents of the Pebble copper and gold prospect in Southwest Alaska wanted to put before voters this year.
The sponsors will shift their efforts to promoting the other initiative, said Jack Hobson, a sponsor who lives in Nondalton.
That second initiative is somewhat less controversial and is scheduled to get a statewide vote in August.
In recent months, the backers of both initiatives have claimed their proposed laws were directed only at blocking future mines -- like Pebble -- in sensitive areas.
The initiative push ignited a firestorm among developers and mining supporters, who launched a major ad campaign this spring arguing that the initiatives would shut down mines in Alaska, eliminating hundreds of jobs.
The initiative sponsors counterattacked. The anti-Pebble group called the Renewable Resources Coalition in Anchorage published a series of ads saying that no existing mines would be harmed.
State regulators and lawyers disagreed. The first initiative would likely prevent existing mines, such as Pogo and Fort Knox, two Interior gold mines, from renewing permits they need to stay open, they said. On the flip side, the second initiative would not change the state's regulation of mining at all, they said.
Jeff Feldman, an Anchorage attorney for the sponsors of the first initiative, sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday asking him to withdraw the first initiative. The sponsors also will drop their court appeal, he said.
"It was viewed as being a more divisive initiative," he said.
The sponsors never intended to have two initiatives. But Parnell deemed the first one unconstitutional and it then got ensnared in a legal battle, Feldman said.
So sponsors wrote two other versions to ensure that something would go before voters this year, he said.
The final version of the initiative was the charm: Parnell approved it.
Among its sponsors is Art Hackney, an Anchorage political consultant who is a spokesman and former board member of the Renewable Resources Coalition.
Hackney agreed that language in the first initiative had "unintended aspects" for development.
Having two initiatives was also potentially confusing to voters, Feldman said.
Withdrawing it is "good news from our standpoint," said Willis Lyford, campaign director for Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, an industry-funded group that has been running an ad campaign against both initiatives.
The second Clean Water initiative, unlike the first, bans discharge of pollutants in harmful amounts instead of banning all discharges. Also, the second initiative would eliminate mixing zones -- areas in a water body where a pollution discharge may exceed water-quality standards -- for new, large metallic mines like Pebble, Feldman said.
Though state regulators originally believed the second initiative would not result in any changes to current law, they are now taking a second look, said Ed Fogels, director of project management and permitting for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
Mining companies oppose both initiatives and have appealed Parnell's decision to certify the second initiative to the Alaska Supreme Court. A hearing is scheduled in June.
Also, miners are not sure whether Parnell can withdraw any initiatives at all after thousands of Alaskans signed a petition to put it on the ballot, said John Shively, the president of the Pebble Partnership, the 50-50 joint venture exploring and developing the copper and gold prospect near Iliamna.
Jason Hooley, a special assistant to Parnell, said state law does not contain any explicit guidance about how an initiative can be withdrawn.
Parnell's office will start a legal review to decide what to do next, he said.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.