A state judge has found that a Bristol Bay community’s initiative to restrict large-scale mining in the region conflicts with existing state authority to do so, a victory for backers of the proposed Pebble Mine.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock’s Wednesday decision grants the Pebble Limited Partnership summary judgment in its challenge of the Lake and Peninsula Borough’s “Save Our Salmon” initiative.
The measure, which passed by 37 votes during October 2011 polls in the 1,600-person borough, would bar mines larger than 640 acres from having an “adverse effect” on coastal resources or the balance of resources within the region.
In a 29-page opinion, Suddock says the initiative would not constitute an effective ban on large-scale mining, as argued by opponents. In his view, however, the case turned on whether the borough initiative could countermand the state’s regulatory authority over mines -- a conclusion he denied, noting that state lawmakers have granted the Department of Natural Resources “charge of all matters affecting the mineral resources of the state.”
“By so definitively conferring gatekeeper permitting authority upon DNR, the Legislature impliedly prohibited local governments from assuming a concurrent role,” Suddock wrote. “Such a grant of power to local governments would Balkanize state natural resource policy.”
Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole hailed the decision in a brief email to Channel 2 early Wednesday night.
"(The) main point is that the court held that the state gets to evaluate and decide on Pebble via its rigorous permitting process," Heatwole wrote.
Channel 2's Mallory Peebles contributed information to this story.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.