State sues over anti-Pebble mine voter initiative

Associated PressOctober 28, 2011 

JUNEAU -- The state of Alaska on Friday sued to invalidate the results of a voter initiative that could stop a massive gold and copper mine near one of the world's premier salmon fisheries.

Residents of Lake and Peninsula Borough recently voted 280-246 to ban large-scale resource extraction, including mining, that would "destroy or degrade" salmon habitat. The measure was aimed at the Pebble Mine prospect located near the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

But the state, in its lawsuit against the borough, claims the initiative is trumped by Alaska law and the state's authority to govern the management and development of mineral resources. It is asking a judge to keep the borough from enforcing the measure.

"This case is not about state support for or against a Pebble Mine project," Attorney General John Burns said in a statement. "It is about upholding the state's constitutional authority and responsibility to evaluate whether, on balance, development of Alaska's resources is beneficial to all Alaskans.

"This administration has consistently maintained that the state will not sacrifice one resource for another. In the case of Pebble, we haven't yet even considered the pros and cons of any development that may be proposed," he said. "But the Alaska Constitution requires the state, not the borough, to fairly and completely conduct this evaluation."

Burns' office said in a news release that a "small majority of voters" in a local community cannot usurp "the more comprehensive state authority and eliminate the entire state permitting process."

The state supported Pebble Limited Partnership, the group promoting the mine project, in its losing effort to keep the initiative off the Oct. 4 ballot, claiming the measure would enact an ordinance that's unenforceable as a matter of law.

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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