JUNEAU -- An ordinance that could halt development of the Pebble gold and copper mine stems from "unconstitutional efforts of narrow self- interests" seeking to restrict development, a mining company official said.
Ron Thiessen, president and CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., said Thursday that if the measure stands it would have "disastrous consequences for southwest Alaska." Vancouver, Canada-based Northern Dynasty holds a 50 percent interest in Pebble mine, the huge minerals prospect near the headwaters of Bristol Bay -- and the focus of the recently passed voter initiative in Lake and Peninsula Borough.
"This is a region that badly needs investment in new economic opportunities, particularly those that respect regional needs, address key environmental concerns and demonstrate they can be safely developed in collaboration with a robust fishery," Thiessen said in a statement.
"Ultimately, we believe the state of Alaska's constitutional obligation to manage natural resources on state land for the benefit of all Alaskans will prevail over the unconstitutional efforts of narrow self- interests to restrict development in a region the size of South Carolina," he said.
By a 280-246 vote, borough voters last month approved a ban on large-scale resource extraction, including mining, that would "destroy or degrade" salmon habitat. The Alaska attorney general's office sued, claiming the initiative usurps and conflicts with the state's authority to govern management and development of mineral resources.
Art Hackney, a spokesman for the ballot group behind the initiative, said the initiative language was carefully worded and researched by highly experienced lawyers. If it were "that patently unconstitutional," he said it wouldn't have been allowed on the ballot in the first place.
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.
A judge refused to stop the vote and set a hearing to assess where things stood in the case once the results were in. That hearing is scheduled for Monday.