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Pebble Mine group won't contest election

Posted: October 25, 2011 - 12:05am

JUNEAU — The group promoting a mine project near the headwaters of Bristol Bay will not contest the outcome of a vote aimed at the Pebble Mine.

Unofficial results released by Lake and Peninsula Borough last week showed a vote of 280-246 in favor of banning large-scale resource extraction activity that would “destroy or degrade” salmon habitat. Pebble Mine is a massive gold-and-copper prospect located near one of the world’s premier salmon fisheries.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for Pebble Limited Partnership, said Monday that ballot watchers indicated that the clerk and canvassing committee did a very thorough job, and there was nothing to contest. Municipal elections in the borough are conducted by mail, with ballots counted by hand. Ballots had to be postmarked by Oct. 4, and they were counted — with watchers from both sides on hand — Oct. 17.

Heatwole said Pebble instead will focus on a pending legal challenge. Pebble had sought to stop the vote, arguing in part that the measure would improperly bypass the role of the local planning commission. But a state court judge refused, noting that Alaska’s Supreme Court has given deference to initiatives absent proof they would do something unlawful.

The judge instead put the case on hold until next month; a hearing is set for Nov. 7.

Pebble believes the measure sets up an illegal law. Alaska’s attorney general’s office has also gotten involved, claiming the initiative would enact an ordinance that’s “unenforceable as a matter of law.”

Initiative backers have said that the measure is intended to ensure that the project lives up to what they say the company has promised: that it won’t kill salmon streams.

“We hope the Pebble Partnership keeps its word and allows local Alaskans to make the decisions about mining development in their state,” said Art Hackney, a spokesman for Alaskans for Bristol Bay.

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