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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Alaskans say 'No' to unclear measure

57 percent of voters reject Ballot Measure 4; anti-Pebble group returns focus to stopping copper-gold-molybdenum mine


Last updated 8/31/2008 at Noon

The majority of Alaska voters followed the lead of their governor the August 26 primary, turning down Ballot Measure 4 at polling booth by a margin of nearly three to two.

When Gov. Sarah Palin took her governor's hat off Aug. 25 and threw it in the "Vote No on Measure 4" ring; she joined leaders across the state in voicing their support for the state's mining industry and the agencies that regulate it.

"Let me take my governor's hat off just for a minute here and tell you, personally, Prop 4, I vote 'No' on that. I have all the confidence in the world that the Department of Environmental Conservation and our Department of Natural Resources have great, very stringent regulations and policies already in place. We're going to make sure that mines operate only safely, and soundly," Palin said.

The governor's remarks echoed the sentiment of leaders from more than a dozen cities and boroughs, the majority of Native corporation leaders (with the noted exception of Bristol Bay Native Corp. which did not take a public position on the issue) as well as various business associations, including the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Alaska Auto Dealers Association and Alaska Forest Association.

Some Alaskans say Palin should have left her "governor hat" on when it comes to commenting on the citizen's initiative.

One voter told Mining News, "I could not decide how to vote until the governor announced her decision. I have decided now, I am voting 'Yes.' "

APOC censors state

The Alaska Legislature also appropriated $25,000 for state regulators to educate the public about Alaska's large-mine permitting process and the effects the ballot measure would have on that process. The state's Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Conservation collaborated with the assistance of the Department of Law to launch a public information website.

Brian Kraft, a Bristol Bay lodge owner, filed a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, asserting that the state Web site violated election campaign laws. APOC ordered the Web site to be dismantled until attorneys from both sides could agree on appropriate content for it. After making language and other changes, the state was allowed to re-launch the Web site a few days later.

The Web site controversy and the governor's declaration, prompted the APOC to order state employees to refrain from stating their positions on Ballot Measure 4. Upon further review, the campaign watchdog withdrew the order, citing First Amendment concerns.

Pebble opponents focus on Pebble

When Mining News asked Bruce Switzer, Alaskans For Clean Water senior technical advisor, what factors contributed to Alaskans voting down Ballot Measure 4, Switzer said, "One of the things; our polls showed us ahead until Palin came out, and then we started dropping."

Switzer also attributed the election outcome to the amount of money spent on ads opposing the measure during the final days approaching the election as well as the mining industry's strategy "of making sure the issue stayed confused and not about Pebble."

"The initiative was not drafted as well in the first place as it should have been, that didn't help" Switzer added.

The technical advisor for the anti-Pebble organization said the group's plans are the same, with some modifications, as they were before the election. Pebble opponents had hoped that if the initiative passed it would assist them in their efforts with rallying legislators and getting action on legislation like House Bill 74, the mixing zone legislation.

"We will now be able to focus on Pebble as opposed to the broader question of the initiative," Switzer said.

Helvi Sandvik, NANA Development Corp.'s president, said, "Alaskans understand they don't have to choose between the mining industry and the fishing industry; both are needed for our economic success.

"Yesterday, Alaskans protected Alaska's right to responsibly develop all of our valuable resources, without exclusion," Sandvik said Aug. 27.

Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, the group that campaigned against Ballot Measure 4, posted a simple message on their Web site the day after the election:

"Thank you, Alaska."


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