Walker administration asks state Supreme Court to block salmon protection initiative

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker's administration Friday asked the state Supreme Court to block a fish habitat protection initiative from appearing on next year's ballot.

State attorneys announced they had appealed a ruling by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner, issued this month, that would allow the initiative to move ahead.

[Judge overrules Mallott, allows salmon protection initiative to move ahead]

Walker's administration had previously rejected the initiative proposal, saying it would unconstitutionally appropriate a state asset – water – away from big development projects like mines and pipelines. The proposal would set up a new permitting system for projects that affect fish habitat, requiring new levels of review for those that would have "significant adverse impacts" and barring those that cause irreparable damage.

Supporters of natural resource extraction say that the permitting scheme would make it impossible to build big projects, like the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska.

"The question of whether a proposed ballot initiative makes an appropriation is an important constitutional question that should be answered by the Alaska Supreme Court," Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a prepared statement announcing the appeal. "This is about the Superior Court's legal conclusion and our duty to defend the Alaska Constitution, and we believe the Superior Court got it wrong."

The initiatives' sponsors still need to collect more than 30,000 signatures to place their proposal on the ballot next year.

A business-backed group, Stand for Alaska, formed this week to oppose the initiative.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com