Rally targets Parnell administration over legal bills in Pebble case

Dan Joling

A fight over attorney fees in a court case involving the proposed Pebble mine spilled to the streets of downtown Anchorage on Wednesday when a group rallied against any effort to collect from two Alaska icons: former first lady Bella Hammond and constitutional author Vic Fischer.

Dozens organized by Backbone, a government watchdog group, unfurled banners and chanted during the short protest that targeted the Parnell administration.

"Real Alaskans Don't Bully Their Elders," one banner said.

Hammond, 80, and Fischer, 89, are the best-known of a group of plaintiffs who sued the state in 2009 over temporary exploration permits issued for the Pebble prospect. Pebble later joined the state in defending the lawsuit. The suit argued the state should be required to give public notice and find that the work was in the public interest. In 2011, an Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled against the group.

Now Pebble and the state are trying to recover their costs and a portion of their legal fees -- $1 million in all -- under a "loser pays" law.

The state says the lawsuit brought by Trustees for Alaska, a environmental public interest firm, was expensive and drawn out, and wasted state money.

"The state has a valid interest in protecting the public coffers," assistant attorney general Cori Mills said in a written response. The state at this point is trying to determine if requiring any of the plaintiffs to pay would be a hardship, she said.

State Sens. Hollis French and Bill Wielechowski, both Anchorage Democrats, were at the rally. They said the suit was brought in the public interest. Gov. Sean Parnell should drop the request for attorney fees, they said.

-- Lisa Demer