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Supreme Court allows Pebble initiative onto October ballot

Lisa Demer

A ballot initiative that could sidetrack the giant Pebble mine will be allowed to go before voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough this October under a ruling Wednesday by the Alaska Supreme Court.

The initiative seeks to change borough law to bar it from granting permits for any big mine that would have "a significant adverse impact" on salmon streams. Pebble's partners had gone to court to halt the initiative, arguing that what it proposes cannot be accomplished by initiative and that the measure would unenforceable, among other issues.

But Pebble lost in Superior Court and again Wednesday in the state Supreme Court.

The proposed Pebble project would be the only mine affected, the initiative sponsors have said.

Exploration work is ongoing for the proposed copper and gold mine that, if developed, would be North America's biggest open pit mine.

The project is hugely controversial because it straddles streams that feed rich runs of red salmon, king salmon and rainbow trout.

Mine backers say mining and fishing can co-exist in the Bristol Bay area and that the project would bring needed jobs. Opponents contend the mine could destroy the lucrative salmon runs that the community has relied on for generations.

The borough clerk certified the "Save Our Salmon" initiative in April to allow it on the Oct. 4 ballot. But Pebble went to court, arguing the clerk was wrong to certify the measure.

In July, Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock said he would allow the election to proceed, then sort out various issues afterward.

The Pebble Limited Partnership appealed, arguing that the lower court judge should have decided the case before the election. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court declined to accept the case for review.

The substantive issues, such as whether the proposed law could be enforced, haven't yet been ruled on, Mike Heatwole, spokesman for The Pebble Partnership, said Wednesday evening.

Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American PLC are partners in developing the Pebble mine. They have budgeted $91 million this year to create a detailed project description and proposal for development.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com