Bristol Bay Forever: after long effort, initiative may still face legal challenges

Unofficial results show that 65 percent of voters approved Ballot Measure 4, also known as the Bristol Bay Forever initiative, in last Tuesday’s general election. This outcome could be interpreted as a public vote against Pebble, but the initiative likely will be up against legal challenges.

Bristol Bay Forever, as described by its sponsors, adds another layer of approvals to the typical permitting process for any large-scale metallic sulfide mine, like Pebble, that would be developed in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. It does not affect other types of development in Bristol Bay or large-scale mines in other areas of Alaska.

Proponents say the additional step is needed to give people their only chance to say “Yea” or “Nay” to a large-scale mine project in this unique reserve. Critics, including the Alaska Miners Association  (AMA), have said it’s not fair to give legislators the power to decide on a project after developers have spent years and a lot of money getting through the established permitting process.

In fact, AMA and others challenged “Bristol Bay Forever” even before it landed on the ballot, saying that it was unconstitutional. The courts did not agree. Last summer the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the measure didn’t violate any provisions in the state constitution, and it was added to November’s ballot. In the lead up to the election, AMA Executive Director Deantha Crockett vowed to take the issue back to the courts if the measure passed.

There was very little campaigning against the initiative. Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) CEO Tom Collier explained in September that the company did not have funds to do so. He told a Resource Development Council gathering in September that, “it’s a stupid way to run the government – to make any decision. We’re confident it will be thrown out in courts if it passes.”

In any case, members of the public will have to wait years to see if Bristol Bay Forever is used as intended. The initiative’s call for legislative approval of a project comes into play only after the permitting process is complete. That process, which can take four or more years, begins with the Pebble Partnership finalizing its mining plan and submitting applications. PLP says the documents are mostly ready, but will wait for a new partner to invest before moving forward. (Major investor Anglo-American withdrew from the project a year ago, leaving Northern Dynasty Minerals as the sole owner.)

Crockett and other mining advocates say an initiative like Bristol Bay Forever can chill the atmosphere for attracting investors to Alaska projects like Pebble. In this respect – even though the Bristol Bay Forever initiative as written is intended to add final decision-making layer to the permitting process – it may effectively deter development of Pebble before that process even begins.

Read more:

Bristol Bay Forever would give lawmakers say on mine permitting (KTUU, September 7, 2014)

Text of Bristol Bay Forever initiative


Resource Development Council breakfast: EPA vs. Pebble talk, Tom Collier, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO