By Naomi Klouda
An Iliamna Native group closest to the proposed Pebble Mine site is standing against a lawsuit filed in Anchorage Superior Court last week that seeks to stop the development.
According to a lawsuit brought by Nunamta Aulukesta and other Bristol Bay residents, the state’s Department of Natural Resources violated the Alaska Constitution by granting permits allowing exploration. The groups accuse the department of issuing permits while failing to consider whether the mine is in the public’s interest.
“We have to protect this resource we have survived on for a thousand years or more,” said Bobby Andrew, a spokesman for a group that represents eight Alaska Native corporations.
The agency also is accused of failing to give meaningful notice about exploration plans at Pebble and providing the public a real opportunity to respond. The civil lawsuit makes six separate claims under the state Constitution and seeks a preliminary injunction until a final court decision.
But this week, President of the Iliamna Corp., Lisa Reimers, is countering their arguments, contending the lawsuit lacks substance.
“I attended the press conference where Nunamta Aulukestai, Jack Hobson, Ricky Delkittie, Violet Wilson, Bella Hammond and Victor Fischer announced their lawsuit against DNR to stop Pebble,” Reimers said in an issued statement. “This lawsuit has no merit and is very disappointing to me. My family lives in Iliamna. It is where I am from. And it is where Pebble has its headquarters.”
The state agency providing permitting oversight already has failed on numerous levels, dating back two decades, said Steve Cotton, executive director of Trustees for Alaska, an environmental law firm representing plaintiffs.
The Department of Natural Resources granted permits for 2009-2010 allowing for 425 bore holes and 320 test pits and 2,000 feet of seismic line, Cotton had said in announcing the lawsuit. Water use permits allow tens of millions of gallons of water be withdrawn from creeks and streams. Helicopters at the site can fly around the clock, he said.
Reimers counters that the attorneys who speak for the plaintiffs are passing along misinformation. Iliamna residents would be in a better position as first-hand witnesses to the activities of wildlife, she said.
“First of all, there are not hundreds of trips during the day with helicopters in and out of Iliamna. Second, caribou have been migrating to find lichen to eat, and are not driven out by helicopters,” she said.
The lawsuit asks the court for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from granting or extending permits on mining claims held by the Pebble Limited Partnership. It is uncertain when the court would take up the matter.
John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership, said the mining companies have gone well beyond the minimum requirements at Pebble.
“I think from our perspective we believe we followed all the rules and regulations that have served the mining industry well in this state,” he said.
The Ilimana group seeks to separate themselves in “a difference of a experience” from the groups bringing the lawsuit.
“This group tells everyone they represent the people of Bristol Bay,” Reimer’s statement continues. “They do not represent me. They do not represent my community or the other communities around the Lake Iliamna area. And, they did not consider asking about this lawsuit and what it could mean to our livelihoods. They (Nunamta) represent communities that are 100 miles away from us. They did not ask us if the wildlife, the fish, or environment has been impacted by Pebble’s exploration. The Nunamta group did not consider including Iliamna, who is supposedly impacted by this exploration and let us answer if the fish are depleting or the caribou are disappearing because of Pebble.”
Iliamna is going to speak for itself, Reimers states. “If we feel like Pebble’s exploration is impacting us, we will communicate that ourselves. We do not need a group that is trying to bully us into thinking on behalf of us.”
Pebble in is preliminary work already “has provided numerous jobs and an economy for our area today. Nunamta and Trustees for Alaska do not,” she said.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report
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