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Alaska Supreme Court hears salmon ballot initiative case

April 28, 2018 GMT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A ballot initiative that aims to strengthen a state law that protects salmon habitat has made its way before the Alaska Supreme Court.

The court heard arguments Thursday on whether the initiative dubbed Yes for Salmon can appear on the November ballot, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported .

State attorney Joanne Grace argued that the ballot initiative would ban large development projects like mines, which cannot avoid disturbing salmon habitat. By the initiative enacting such a ban, the state claimed the Legislature would lose its authority to regulate state resources — a violation of the Alaska Constitution.

Under the initiative’s permitting process for projects seeking to develop on fish habitat, the state Department of Fish and Game would lose its decision-making discretion, Grace told the court. Any activity determined to have a “significant adverse effect” on the habitat is banned.

The measure would allow for some habitat disruption if mitigation efforts are in place nearby and the habitat can be restored within a “reasonable period.”

The initiative does not prohibit any specific project, but it raises the bar for permitting development on habitat, said Valerie Brown, a legal director of Trustees for Alaska, the Anchorage-based environmental law firm.

“It’s a permitting scheme that allows the use of public resources without permitting harm,” Brown told the court.

If the department determines a project would have significant adverse effects, Brown said mitigation steps would need to be put in place or project plans would need to be amended. But a project would not be banned.

“It’s all about the amount of harm. The size of the project is irrelevant,” Brown said.

The court is expected to issue a ruling by September.

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Information from: (Anchorage) Alaska Journal of Commerce, http://www.alaskajournal.com