Pebble Update

State of Alaska officials have filed a constitutional challenge in Anchorage Superior Court against a Lake and Peninsula Borough ordinance recently enacted by a ballot initiative that stands to prevent development of the Pebble mine.

The initiative amended borough code to preclude granting permits for mining operations of greater than 640 acres that would give rise to a significant adverse impact on any salmon streams. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which hopes to build the mine, went to court to try and stop the initiative from getting on the ballot, but the Alaska Supreme Court denied an emergency petition for review by a lower court hearing, choosing to defer a decision on the legality of the ballot measure until after the Oct. 4 election.

The mine is a joint venture of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., in Vancouver, British Columbia, and London-based Anglo American PLC.

Mining advocates say the massive copper, gold and molybdenum project can be developed in harmony with the commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries resources of Southwest Alaska. A number of fisheries and conservation groups argue that such a mine could prove disastrous to the fisheries.

The state’s lawsuit alleges that the borough ordinance is invalid because it tilts the constitutional balance between state and local interests. The state argues that the Alaska Constitution gives the state Legislature authority to determine how to develop resources for maximum use consistent with the public interest. State attorneys say it is the state’s duty to evaluate projects to determine whether they can be conducted in a way that serves the public interest, and if so, what safeguards to require. Under the Lake and Peninsula Borough ordinance, the state may never have that opportunity, the lawsuit says.