Battle Lines are Drawn: Dunleavy Administration Supports Pebble Mine Against BBRSDA
May 13, 2019
By Peggy Parker —
Alaska Governor Dunleavy has reversed the policy of two previous administrations of recognizing the authority of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) to engage in the public process of opposing the Pebble mine project at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
The state filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit filed last month by six BBRSDA members against the regional seafood promotional group. The suit was paid for by Pebble Limited Partnership, the applicant for the mine permit, as a ‘gift’ to the plaintiffs, six Bristol Bay fishermen who believe the group should stay silent during the public comment process.
The suit challenges BBRSDA’s contracts with the United Tribes of Bristol Bay and Salmon State to provide information critical to the mine’s operation that was not included in the US Army Corps of Engineer’s EIS. The information was used in press conferences and at fish meetings to educate Alaskans and other stakeholders in Bristol Bay. Both UTBB and Salmon State are opposed to the mine.
Dunleavy’s action was not surprising to those who watched his campaign. As a candidate for governor, Dunleavy appeared indifferent to the commercial fishing industry and has since displayed more interest in expanding the influence of the sports industry over commercial in several venues around the state.
His decision to file the amicus brief reverses the position of two earlier administrations. Both Governors Walker and Parnell acknowledged the association’s authority to spend funds at its own discretion. The disparity was noted by BBRSDA attorney Scott Kendall in a May 10 interview with KDLG.org.
“What’s changed between the last seven years and Monday of this week?” he asked on Friday. “They’ve reversed that precedent. The statutes haven’t changed. The only thing that appears to have changed is the posture of the administration.”
In response to the May 6 amicus brief from the State, BBRSDA filed a motion May 9 to dismiss the suit. Their argument rests on four points:
* The plaintiff’s brief ignores a central issue: “promoting” must mean something more than “marketing.”
* BBRSDA’s statutory duty to promote the fishery and the industry that relies on it, includes the ability to assess and mitigate a clear and present threat to the fishery’s value, brand, and abundance.
* BBRSDA’s voluntary assessment monies cannot be considered as the State subsidizing BBRSDA activities. It is paid voluntarily by BBRSDA’s members through a self-assessment.
* The Court must interpret the statute to include First Amendment rights of association and free speech.
Last month Dunleavy also supported no extension of the public comment period on the Pebble permit. Both Alaska Senators Murkowski and Sullivan recently urged an extension for public comment, a move supported by thousands of stakeholders. That request was granted on Friday, May 3, by the Corp of Engineers. The final date to submit comments for both the draft EIS and Pebble’s application is now July 1, two days later than the extension’s original end date of June 29, according to the KDLG report.