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Judge sides with state in lawsuit targeting Pebble mine

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU -- A Superior Court judge in Anchorage has sided with the state in a legal battle over the Pebble mine project.

Judge Eric Aarseth, in a written ruling Monday, found that the state was not required to give public notice before issuing exploratory permits for the project site. He also found the state didn't need to study the potential impacts of the activity first.

The plaintiffs, who include a coalition of Alaska Native village corporations, said they are considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Attorney General John J. Burns and the Pebble Limited Partnership, which is pursuing development of the gold and copper prospect, lauded Aarseth's decision. Pebble was an intervener in the case, supporting the state.

The case dates to 2009, with the coalition Nunamta Aulukestai and several individuals alleging that the state Department of Natural Resources violated provisions of Alaska's Constitution by allowing exploration to occur more than 20 years without public notice or advance study of the potential impacts of the work. They claimed there had been damage to the resources in the region due to the activity.

"No amount of compensation will restore the land, the wildlife and the waters at the Pebble Project area to what they were before mining exploration started," plaintiff Ricky Delkittie Sr. said in a statement.

But Aarseth, in a 154-page opinion, said the plaintiffs failed to prove their case. He wrote that based on evidence at trial, it is more likely than not that the exploration- related activities "did not cause any significant impact or long-term harm to concurrent uses."

A statement released by Pebble's spokesman said the company intends "to continue conducting a careful, responsible study program as we proceed to design a project that will create enormous opportunity for Alaskans, especially for the residents of Southwest Alaska."

Associated Press