Superior Court weighs legality on funds spent opposing mine

An Alaska Superior Court decision is anticipated shortly in litigation challenging the right of a regional seafood development association to use funds derived from a self-assessed tax of members to oppose the propose a massive mine in Southwest Alaska.

Superior Court Judge Yvonne Lamoureux heard over three hours of testimony in Anchorage on May 13 from attorneys in a case brought by six Bristol Bay drift gillnet fishermen seeking a preliminary injunction against the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association in its efforts to promote and protect the marketability of Bristol Bay’s wild salmon harvest.

The plaintiff harvesters are members of the BBRSDA and their litigation is being paid for by the Pebble Limited Partnership, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson, the diversified, global mining group proposing to build the Pebble mine in the area of the Bristol Bay watershed. One of the plaintiffs, Abe Williams, is a PLP employee.

The Dunleavy administration is siding with the plaintiff fishermen in an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and their opposition to the BBRSDA’s motion to dismiss.

This litigation challenges the BBRSDA’s contract with United Tribes of Bristol Bay and Salmon State to provide information regarding operation of the proposed mine that was not included in the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Final comments on the draft EIS are due by June 29.

In its motion to discuss the lawsuit, the BBRSDA noted its statutory duty to promote the Bristol Bay fishery and the industry that relies on it, including the agility to assess and mitigate a clear and present threat to the value brand and abundance of the fishery.

The brief also argued that the regional seafood development corporation is a development as well as a marketing association and that there is no question that pubic and market awareness of the Pebble mine and its potential impact on Bristol Bay salmon is very high.

“Plaintiffs’ whole case depends on pretending that the mine and fishery inhabit separate worlds, but of course the proposed mine and the fishery are in the same geographic region and one is rarely mentioned in the same breath without the other,” the BBRSDA’s attorneys said.