Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell hosted an initiative hearing on Proposition 4 Thursday in Ketchikan.
If passed, Prop 4 will require state approval of permits before any future large-scale metallic mining operation begins. Any such mine is already required to go through a handful of state and federal permitting processes before it can actually start operations.
Proponents of the measure argue that legislative approval is a logical addition to the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve regulations. The reserve was established in 1972 and requires the Legislature to approve permits for oil development and gas leases within the reserve, with the goal of protecting the environment, specifically the wild king salmon population.
Anders Gustafson is executive director of the Renewable Resources Foundation. He said the initiative essentially updates the reserve regulations to make them relevant to modern issues, and that the extra scrutiny couldn’t hurt.
“We feel that, with the importance of the fisheries, it’s worth an additional review [from] the Legislature and the public to be able to basically measure whether they think that – given the effect of all these permits being granted – the project as a whole could endanger and put the fishery as a whole, at risk,” Gustafson said.
Opponents, however, say if the initiative passes, it allows environmentalists free reign to wrap the region in bureaucratic red tape, stalling potential development operations for any length of time. Jason Brune of the Alaska Miners’ Association said the measure would politicize the process.
“We have permitting agencies whose job is it to make sure that projects in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve or throughout the state are done properly, protecting the existing resources, the fisheries resources, the wildlife, you name it,” Brune said. “Alaska’s permitting process should be scientific; it should not be political.”
The Alaska Supreme Court issued an order this spring for the initiative to appear on the ballot after a coalition of mining groups challenged its constitutionality. The measure aims to regulate a specific area of the state. Though state law forbids statewide initiatives to govern local matters, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve and its state of health are important to the entire state and its economy.
Treadwell reports that the ballot would cost the state upwards of $140,000 to implement, if passed.
No Southeast locals testified during the hearing. The hearing was required by legislation passed in 2010, which requires the lieutenant governor to hold hearing on ballot initiative measures in each voting district in Alaska.
The initiative will appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot