Judge Orders Trial in Lawsuit Against Pebble Permits
A judge has ordered a trial in the lawsuit challenging the exploration and water use permits of the proposed Pebble Mine.
The Court's decision means that the plaintiffs, Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of nine Bristol Bay village corporations; former First Lady Bella Hammond; former State constitutional delegate Victor Fisher; and Bristol Bay residents Ricky Delkittie, Sr. and Violet Willson have cleared the final hurdle to trial, which is now scheduled for December 6, 2010.
Judge Orders Trial in Lawsuit Challenging the Proposed Pebble Mine's Exploration Permits State, Pebble Developer Lose Bid to End Suit Without a Trial
Anchorage, Alaska- On Monday, the judge in a landmark constitutional lawsuit
challenging exploration and water use permits for the proposed Pebble Mine ordered a
trial on five of the six claims in the case. The Court's decision means that the plaintiffs,
Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of nine Bristol Bay village corporations; former First
Lady Bella Hammond; former State constitutional delegate Victor Fisher; and Bristol
Bay residents Ricky Delkittie, Sr. and Violet Willson have cleared the final hurdle to
trial, which is scheduled for December 6, 2010.
"This decision means that the people whose rights and livelihoods are being
jeopardized by intensive exploration activities at Pebble will have their day in court to
show that the State has violated the Alaska Constitution," said Trustees for Alaska
Attorney Nancy Wainwright, who represents the plaintiffs. "The State has issued permits
behind closed doors without even looking at the harms to public resources. At last those
harms will be addressed in court."
The State and Pebble Limited Partnership sought to avoid a trial by claiming that,
as a matter of law, the State was not required to provide public notice or any kind of
public interest analysis before issuing permits for Pebble exploration.
"We applaud the court's ruling," said Bobby Andrew, spokesman for Nunamta
Aulukestai, the lead plaintiff in the case. "As subsistence users of the region, we know
that exploration is having a serious impact on water, wildlife, and fish. We rely on these
resources for survival, yet DNR continues to rubber stamp permits without public notice
and without any analysis to justify these impacts. There needs to be a trial on that."
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric A. Aarseth held that "the most basic
question in this case is whether the State was required to balance various constitutional
interests when considering whether to issue the permits and do so in a transparent way."
He further held that provisions of Article VIII of Alaska's Constitution "in order to have
any meaning at all, must be interpreted as containing independent constraints on State
action." He concluded, in a 20-page decision, that the plaintiffs have "demonstrated that
material issues of fact exist regarding its claims that the State did not comply with the
provisions of Article VIII." The Court also ruled that the trial would focus only on the
State's approval of Pebble exploration and water use, and not on hardrock mining
exploration in other areas of the state.
The suit was filed in July 2009 against the Alaska Department of Natural
Resources, which issued the permits for exploration activities at Pebble for over two
decades with no public notice and no findings with respect to impacts to the
constitutionally protected public resources in the area. Mine developer Pebble Limited
Partnership was allowed to intervene in the case to defend the permits.
Exploration and water use at Pebble has resulted in drilling over 900 boreholes,
disposing of thousands of gallons of drilling fluids onto the tundra, using explosives over
a wide area, and withdrawing millions of gallons of water from lakes and anadromous
streams important for spawning Bristol Bay salmon.
SOURCE: Strategies 360 Alaska
Bobby Andrew, spokesman for Nunamta Aulukestai: (907) 842-5983
Kim Williams, Executive Director, Nunamta Aulukestai: (907) 842-4404
Nancy Wainwright, Staff Attorney, Trustees for Alaska: (907) 276-4244, ext. 113