Judge Sets Trial Date for Pebble Initiative for February 2013

Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock on Jan. 10 consolidated two lawsuits aimed at halting enforcement of an initiative to forbid permitting large-scale mines that could significantly impact on salmon streams, and set a trial date for Feb. 11, 2013.

Suddock made his decision after hearing comments in the Anchorage courtroom from all parties involved in the litigation. Both the Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to develop the prospect, and the state of Alaska are challenging the legality of the initiative.

The case could be resolved on motions before the actual trial date.

Voters in Southwest Alaska’s Lake and Peninsula Borough approved during a general election last November an initiative aimed at blocking development of the massive Pebble mine prospect at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. The Save Our Salmon initiative was the work of a group concerned that development of the copper, gold and molybdenum Pebble prospect could have a devastating effect on Bristol Bay’s wild sockeye salmon, salmon spawned in the river systems of the Bristol Bay watershed.

The initiative, approved by a vote of 280-246, changes borough law to forbid the permitting of large mines that would have “significant adverse impact” on salmon streams, which are in abundance in the region.

The main thrust of the initiative is that it would add language to the borough’s permitting code that states “where a resource extraction activity could result in excavation, placement of fill, grading, removal and disturbance of the topsoil of more than 640 acres of land and will have a significant adverse impact on existing anadromous waters, a development permit shall not be issued by the (planning) commission.”

The initiative also changes the preferred order in which permits are applied for. Prior to passage of the initiative, the borough code required that an applicant seeking a borough permit must have already secured all state and federal permits. The initiative strikes that language and states, “the applicant should obtain its development permit from the borough prior to obtaining state and federal permits.”