Saturday, March 01, 2008

Fairbanks Judge Douglas Blankenship Rules The Long Version Of The Alaska Clean Water Initiative To Be Unconstitutional

Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Douglas Blankenship ruled on February 29th, 2008 that one version of the clean water initiative is unconstitutional and cannot be placed on the November ballot. The rejected version, which is the "long" version, was deemed too broad and violates the Alaska constitution because it allocates water resources. By law, only the Alaska Legislature may dictate how state resources are used. Full story aired on KTUU Channel 2 and reported by the Anchorage Daily News.

In his decision, Judge Blankenship wrote, "Initiative law in Alaska requires that the Legislature retain discretion to allocate public assets such as water to all uses, including large-scale metallic mining, and not just to salmon and downstream communities". Blankenship also said banning the water use to large-scale mining "changes the function of water from mining use to only human or fish use and foils the Legislature's role as the sole appropriator under the Alaska Constitution." So in other words, to change the legislature's role requires a constitutional amendment and cannot be done by some popular initiative.

The initiative that was struck down places five prohibitive measures on mining on operations greater than 640 acres. One provision includes barring a "mining operation from releasing any amount of toxic pollutant into water that is used for drinking water or by salmon."

Blankenship's order overturns an October decision by another Superior Court judge, Fred Torrisi, who ruled the initiative could go on the ballot. However, Judge Blankenship allowed a similar but more narrow version of the initiative, known as "Clean Water Three", to proceed.

At stake is the state's mining industry, which, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce, was valued at $3.96 billion in 2007, up from $3.5 billion in 2006. As oil production continues to decline, a growing mining industry will make up some of the difference.

Click HERE to view all four pages of the overturned version, designated 07WATR, in PDF format.

Click HERE to view all four pages of "Clean Water Three", the version allowed to stand, designated 07WTR3, in PDF format.

The primary bone of contention is the proposed Pebble mine, which sits near the world's most productive wild sockeye salmon stream in Southwest Alaska. Its development prospects has become one of the state's most divisive resource issues. The Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, which includes a politically diverse group of supporters like Cheryl Frasca, William Sheffield, Ernie Hall, and Dan Sullivan, supports the Pebble Mine. The Renewable Resources Coalition has taken an extreme position against it, to the point to where they want to quash further debate.

One thing both supporters and opponents of the initiatives agree on: The Alaska Supreme Court is likely to have the final say on all of the ballot initiatives. Visit the Pebble Partnership website to learn of Northern Dynasty's plans for the Pebble Mine. Pebble Partnership seems to have a vested interest in making this work; recently, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported that the Pebble Partnership will contribute $5 million to the Alaska Community Foundation, based in Anchorage, in order to enhance fisheries and sustain the economies of communities in Southwest Alaska.

In return, the nonprofit foundation would provide financial management and administrative services, while a stakeholder advisory board, yet to be named, would review applications for grants and make recommendations on approving them. The Pebble Partnership has repeatedly said that they want to establish partnerships that not only protect, but also enhance the fisheries of Bristol Bay.

This hardly fits the profile of the "ruthless corporate predator" hysterically portrayed by the Renewable Resources Coalition.

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