Measure 4 supporters regroup

NEXT STEPS: They say a grass-roots campaign heavy on facts is needed.

August 28, 2008 

Luki Akelkok thinks he knows why Alaska voters failed to pass the Clean Water Initiative in Tuesday's statewide primary.

"Money talks and everyone got brainwashed," said the 71-year-old lifelong resident of Bristol Bay.

One day after voters failed to pass Ballot Measure 4, initiative supporters were regrouping Wednesday, trying to come up with strategy for fighting the mining industry and the Pebble Mine, a huge copper and gold deposit in Southwest Alaska near the world's most productive wild salmon streams.

With nearly all the vote counted Wednesday, Ballot Measure 4 failed with more than 57 percent of voters opposed.

Members of Alaskans for Clean Water, the Bristol Bay Alliance and the Renewable Resources Coalition said at the very least the fight over Ballot Measure 4 helped put the issue of Pebble before the public.

The next step is reaching out to the "pale green" Alaskans, the ones who favor responsible resource development, and provide them with accurate information, said Pat Flatley, outreach coordinator for the Bristol Bay Alliance.

"We've identified the folks that are very concerned about the Bristol Bay watershed and the clean water and the fish," Flatley said. "We believe they are savvy people and tired of the rhetoric and the fibs on both sides and the emotion."

Dave Atcheson with the Renewable Resources Foundation, the education arm of the group promoting Ballot Measure 4, said their side needs to get back to a grass-roots campaign to fight the large amounts of money spent by mining conglomerates "to convince people that something evil was going to happen, that jobs would be lost and that wasn't the case."

Records filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission shows that the anti-Measure 4 group Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown received more than $7 million in the months leading up to the primary, most of it coming from an industry group called the Council of Alaska Producers.

On the other side, an Alexandria, Va.-based group called Americans for Job Security provided $1.2 million to Alaskans for Clean Water. The group does not have to disclose where it gets its money.

Bristol Bay lodge owner and Anchorage millionaire Robert Gillam also donated more than a half million dollars to Alaskans for Clean Water.

Art Hackney, the ballot measure's main spokesman, said opponents spent closer to $15 million to defeat the measure. His side spent less than $3 million, he said.

Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, said claims being made by the other side, including how much money was spent to defeat the initiative, are "hogwash."

He accused the other side of not being upfront with where it got its money.

"It is for sure the monies being spent on that side did not get reported properly," he said.

Borell said that it was an "absolute travesty" how Alaskans for Clean Water and other groups have portrayed the Pebble Mine, maligning the project and scaring people away.

"The lies that were spread were incredible," he said.

Even so, Borell said voters figured out one important thing about Ballot Measure 4.

"They understood that the thing was not clear. Nobody could really say what the impact would be," he said.

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