Deadline passes for voting on initiative targeting Pebble

MAIL-IN: Canvassing board will count votes at Oct. 17 meeting.

Associated PressOctober 4, 2011 

JUNEAU -- Tuesday marked the deadline for voting, but it will be nearly two weeks before Alaskans know the outcome of an initiative aimed at stopping the Pebble Mine project.

Municipal elections in Southwest Alaska's Lake and Peninsula Borough are conducted by mail. Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday and in the clerk's office by Oct. 14. They will be counted when the canvassing board meets Oct. 17. Clerk Kate Conley said results will be certified Oct. 27 if there are no challenges.

Voters are deciding whether to ban large-scale resource extraction activity, including mining, that would "destroy or degrade" salmon habitat. It's directed at Pebble mine, a massive gold-and-copper prospect near the headwaters of Bristol Bay and one of the world's premier wild salmon fisheries.

The vote likely won't be the last word on how, or whether, the mine is built, with a challenge to the initiative having already been filed. Pebble Limited Partnership, the group promoting the project, has argued, in part, that the measure would improperly bypass the role of the local planning commission. The state attorney general's office has said the initiative would enact an ordinance that is "unenforceable as a matter of law."

A judge has put the case on hold until Nov. 7.

Conley declined to speculate on voter turnout. The borough mailed out 1,192 ballots, to all registered voters. Turnout in recent municipal elections have ranged from 191 in 2007 to 384 last year, according to information Conley provided.

The ballot count is being held at a venue that's larger than originally planned because of the interest from the media and others in witnessing it.

The vote is the latest in the yearslong fight over a project that supporters say could create up to 1,000 long-term jobs in economically depressed rural Alaska. Opponents, however, fear that the mine could fundamentally change the landscape and disrupt, if not destroy, a way of life.

The mine is a joint venture of Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and Anglo American PLC of the United Kingdom.

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