State appeals controversial ballot initiative decision to Supreme Court

Adult sockeye salmon encounter a waterfall on their way up-river to spawn. (Photo by Marvina Munch/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

State attorneys are appealing a judge’s decision to allow a controversial ballot initiative to move forward.

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The Department of Law filed a notice of appeal on Friday, asking the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s opinion.

In a media release, State Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said the question of whether the ballot initiative is unconstitutional should be answered by the Supreme Court.

The initiative would go on the 2018 ballot, and would ask voters to strengthen the state’s permitting requirements for projects that could interfere with salmon streams.

Essentially the initiative would establish two tracks of development permits — one for small projects, another for large ones. Developers would have to prove that the projects wouldn’t damage salmon habitat.

Last month, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott rejected the initiative, saying it would force the state legislature to protect salmon over other types of resource development, like mining.

The state’s argument is that the Legislature should have the power to allocate state assets among competing uses, like salmon and mining or dam development.

The state argues that the initiative is too broad and could halt development of roads, pipelines and the proposed Pebble Mine.

The group behind the ballot initiative — Stand for Salmon — says the initiative isn’t designed to prohibit development. They argue that it would just strengthen the permitting process.

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Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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