Assembly opposes public vote on citizen-based clean water act

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Juneau Assembly on Monday passed a resolution 7 to 2 opposing a statewide ballot initiative seeking to protect Alaska waters from the effects of new large-scale metallic mines.

The resolution, offered by Mayor Bruce Botelho and Assembly member David Stone, explains that if passed by voters the citizen-based law "would establish new water quality standards and discharge limits for new large metallic mines in Alaska."

According to Botelho, the so-called clean water initiative is an unwise use of the ballot initiative process. He said the process is not well-suited for complex science-based issues such as water quality standards and discharge limits. Complex topics are better left to legislative bodies, he said.

As written, the ballot initiative forbids, among other things, any new mine larger than 640 acres from releasing toxic waste into Alaska waters. It will "protect the statewide public interest in water quality by ensuring that Alaska's waterways, streams, rivers and lakes are not adversely impacted by new large-scale metallic mineral mining operations."

There are plenty of people who think it's time the Assembly "got off its duff" and opposed something like this, Assembly member Merrill Sanford said.

Every mine in the state could be affected by the ballot measure if the Alaska Supreme Court allows the decision to be made by voters on the August primary ballot, Stone said.

"I've heard from them all," Stone said.

Stone is a trustee for the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame.

The Assembly has no actual jurisdiction over the initiative, but it instead publicly offers support to mining concerns throughout the state and opposition to voter-based legislation on natural resources.

In March, a Fairbanks Superior Court Judge ruled the Renewable Resources Coalition-sponsored initiative was unconstitutional and it usurps the Alaska Legislature's duty to allocate state resources.

Beyond the political ramifications, no one on the Assembly detailed specific effects faced by the local or statewide mining industry.

Retired Fish and Game employee John Lyman said the clean water initiative targets only mines upland from Bristol Bay and in particular the Pebble Creek Mine, where there's a proposal to build a talings dam longer and higher than the Hoover Dam. Look at the issue before acting, he said.

"It's a guaranteed disaster," Lyman said. "We risk our fisheries and international reputation."

Assembly members Bob Doll and Jonathan Anderson both asked for the resolution to be held over for an Assembly work session wherein facts and science could be discussed. Anderson said he'd not seen the initiative before Friday and there had been no discussion to see if local mines would be affected.

"All we have before us are assertions," Doll said.

"If you trust me," Stone said, "they will be affected."

Before joining Doll with a no vote, Anderson called the final Assembly's action bad government.

A copy of the resolution will be sent to every legislator in the state.

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