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Should developing Pebble Mine be put to a vote?

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times

Lake and Peninsula Borough officials are finding themselves caught in the crossfire over an initiative brought by a citizens group aimed at halting development of large scale mining activities within the borough. 

The Pebble Limited Partnership has filed a motion in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage asking the court to move for summary judgment to keep the proposed "Save Our Salmon" Initiative off of the borough's election ballot, alleging that the initiative is not certifiable under the Alaska Constitution and state statutes. 

Borough manager Lamar Cotton said borough officials feel the initiative is valid and should go on the ballot. 

"The borough does not take a position on the initiative itself," he said. "Our role as a local government is to assure that the election goes ahead." 

Borough officials approved an application for collection of a minimum of 96 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot back in April and have to date received back more than a sufficient number of signatures to proceed. 

Oral arguments are set for June 23 in Anchorage. 

The initiative, if approved by borough residents, would amend the borough's development permitting code by adding a land-use permit requirement precluding permits for certain large-scale development projects, including mining, which will the initiative says will disturb the topsoil of more than 640 acres of land, causing "a significant adverse impact on existing anadromous waters." 

Anadromous waters means any waterway or body of water that serves as habitat, or spawning grounds, to any species of salmon during any stage of the species' life cycle as documented in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Catalog of Waters Important for the Spawning, Rearing or Migration of Anadromous Fishes and its associated atlas. 

Attorneys for the Pebble Limited Partnership say in their brief that the initiative would be unenforceable as a matter of law because it bypasses mandatory participation of the borough's planning commission in adopting or amending land-use permit requirements, and therefore exceeds the scope of the Legislature's authority. "Because the power of the electorate to initiate cannot exceed the power of the Legislature to legislate, the ordinance is unenforceable as a matter of law," plaintiffs said in their brief. 

This story is posted with permission from Alaska Newspapers Inc., which publishes six weekly community newspapers, a statewide shopper, a statewide magazine and slate of special publications that supplement its products year-round.