Mike Dingman: Hammond and Fischer picked the wrong venue, wrong issue to protest Pebble

commentBy MIKE DINGMANOctober 22, 2013 

Something happened in court last month that the anti-development folks don't want you to know about.

Rather than focusing on the facts of the court case -- which they don't want you to know -- they are going to show you photos of former State Senator and Alaska Constitution Delegate Vic Fischer and former First Lady Bella Hammond because they are sympathetic Alaskan heroes.

Don't fall for it.

The two anti-development activists with famous names decided to take the state to court for allowing a mining company to pursue permits. A read through of the court documents seems to show that they argued against the Pebble Mine exploration in a manner that was best suited for an opinion column, not a courtroom.

However, they have famous names -- that should be enough, right?

Fischer and Hammond (along with a bunch of other names that aren't so famous) filed a lawsuit to stop DNR from allowing Pebble to conduct the necessary exploratory work to work their way through the permitting process. They claimed that allowing exploration permits to the Pebble Partnership violated the public interest.

They clearly are not fans of natural resource development in Alaska. Along with being parts of various other anti-development movements they are also two of the "three prime sponsors" of the group "Repeal the Oil Giveaway: Vote Yes."

Last month Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth's decision that concluded, "Based on the evidence provided at trial, it is more likely than not that the permits provided for non-exclusive use of State lands and the activities conducted on site did not cause any significant impact or long-term harm to concurrent uses"

The 154-page court document reads like an advertisement straight from the Pebble Partnership's public relations office. The Fischer/Hammond team loses on every single count -- every single count.

Generally in a complicated case , with a ruling this long and detailed, there would be many points made on either side and one side would win the majority of the counts. That isn't the case here -- the Hammond/Fischer lawsuit came before the court, clearly, without any merit.

Bella Hammond lives near the Pebble exploration site and seems to care about keeping the area around her home quiet more than she cares about the thousands of jobs that the Pebble Mine would create for Bristol Bay residents.

She cares more about the noise level on her porch than she does about the economic health of the community.

She makes her true motivation pretty apparent in some of her testimony at one point she testifies that there is a lot of helicopter activity in the area and that on at least one occasion there was always a helicopter in the air. She said that "from the ground, helicopters are louder than fixed wing aircraft and you can hear them from a long ways away."

Honestly, who can blame her? I wouldn't want to deal with that either.

However, that doesn't mean you get to take the state to court and make baseless allegations. Bella Hammond is quoted in an October 15 Anchorage Daily News article as saying "This is my home and always will be. I think I have the right to protest." -- and she does - just not in the court system.

The plaintiffs are actually Nunamta Aulukestai, (an environmentalist group) Bobby Andrew, Rick Delkittie Sr. and Violet Wilson -- along with Hammond and Fischer.

Now the defendants -- The State of Alaska and Pebble Limited Partnership -- are seeking attorney's fees from the plaintiffs as they have the right to do under state law.

The anti-development crowd will now parade Bella Hammond, Vic Fischer and their famous names and make an emotional argument about the state bullying them. However, it's not that way at all. The state didn't bring this to the door of the plaintiffs; they brought it to the state.

Bella Hammond and Vic Fischer are great Alaskans. I doubt anybody would argue that point, and if they do, they don't know what they are talking about. However, they don't get to use the courtroom to state their protest -- that's not what the courts are for.

Regardless of how sympathetic Hammond and Fischer might be, and regardless of how famous their names are, the state and the Pebble Partnership still have a right to due process.

Mike Dingman is a fifth generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former student body president at UAA and has studied, volunteered and worked in Alaska politics since the late 90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

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