Anti-Pebble Initiative Clears Signature Hurdle

Members of the media walking to an exploratory drill rig. Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG - Dillingham
Members of the media walking to an exploratory drill rig. Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG – Dillingham

A group opposed to the proposed Pebble Mine has secured enough signatures to get their initiative on the ballot.

On Tuesday, the Division of Elections counted 30,210 verified signatures for the Bristol Bay Forever initiative. It needed 30,169 signatures. According to the Division of Elections tally, the group also cleared a threshold requiring that those signatures come from districts spread across the state.

The initiative would require legislative approval for large-scale mining operations in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve for the purpose of protecting the area’s salmon fishery. While the initiative does not explicitly name Pebble Mine, it is targeted at the controversial project. Sponsors focused only on Bristol Bay to avoid affecting other mining projects in the state.

“[That way] you don’t have other entities saying, ‘Yeah, but it might affect me over here,’ ‘It might affect me over here!'” says Art Hackney, a political operative who represents the group. “This is just about this one fishery.”

The Legislature is already required to vote on oil and gas projects in the region.

Hackney says Bristol Bay Forever will face opposition from the mining industry during their campaign, but expects their enthusiasm to be dampened now that a major partner has left the project. Anglo American abandoned its stake in September, after investing $541 million in the operation over the past six years.

“It’s hard to say what the other side will come up with, but it doesn’t look like with Anglo [American] pulling out they’re going to have the money to do that,” says Hackney.

As of September 30, Bristol Bay Forever had $11,000 cash on hand. They’ve raised $100,000 this year, with much of that money going toward the signature collection effort.

The Pebble Partnership, which has mineral rights to the land, still hasn’t decided how they’re going to approach the initiative. Bristol Bay Forever sponsors are currently being sued by the Alaska Miners Association and the Council of Alaska Producers, and Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole says the company is waiting for the constitutionality of the initiative to be decided in that case. If the legal challenge fails, Pebble still doesn’t want the initiative to be turned into law.

“It’s not going to stop Pebble, and it’s just one more effort by the organized opposition to really try to politicize the permitting structure for a resource development project in the state,” says Heatwole. “The question Alaskans should be looking at is: ‘Okay, if it passes for Bristol Bay this go round, what region of the state is next?'”

The Division of Elections still needs to complete their signature count before the Bristol Bay Forever initiative can get the final go-ahead from the state. If it is approved, it will be the second proposition to make it on to the August 2014 primary ballot. A referendum to repeal the state’s new oil tax system got clearance earlier this year.

agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra

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