Dillingham City Council Says It May File Appeal in "Save Our Salmon" Case

Aug 8, 2014

An appeal over mining permits and its potential effect on Dillingham’s local governing authority was the subject of a resolution passed by the City Council Thursday.  KDLG’s Chase Cavanaugh has more.

In its regular August meeting, the Dillingham City Council passed a resolution saying it may file a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Lake and Peninsula Borough as they appeal their Save Our Salmon Initiative. 

Passed by Borough voters in 2011, the initiative would have instituted a local permitting process to regulate large scale mining, such as the proposed Pebble Mine initiative.  After a suit by the Pebble Limited Partnership, the Alaska Superior Court ruled the initiative null and void.  In his decision, the judge said the state legislature had exclusive authority to remove parcels of land larger than 640 acres from mining consideration.  The case is currently being appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The Dillingham City Council, after consulting with attorney Patrick Munson of Boyd, Chandler, and Falconer, was divided on whether the appeal would set precedents affecting the city’s ability to govern.  Councilman Paul Liedberg didn’t think it was a major concern.   

“As Patrick, our attorney, points out in here, it’s likely that the court is gonna make a very narrow decision anyway.  I guess, to me, it’s extremely unlikely that the decision that the court makes would have any impact on the materials site ordinance that we passed last year.” 

Mayor Alice Ruby was more guarded.  She said it may be beneficial if Dillingham filed a friend of the court brief, outlining specific principles the Court should consider in its decision.  Citing Munson’s report, Ruby said a broad decision could call into question Dillingham’s local regulatory authority, such as its ability to issue land use permits.

“We just went through that whole struggle with the state not regulating the gravel borrow here, and that’s the first thing that I thought of when he mentioned this was that decision that came down, could it possibly affect what we’ve done, regulations that we’ve adopted? He says the court will probably decide anything over 640 acres, but he doesn’t know that.  All he’s saying is it’s possible that’s what the decision will be about, but it could also set precedents for decisions even in our expanded boundaries.”

Ultimately, the decision came down to cost.  Munson said filing the brief would require up to $10,000.  Liedberg was hesitant over spending city funds on the measure, particularly during a budget defecit.  However, the council also discussed the possibility of the cost being lowered if other municipalilties also filed briefs.  Bob Hinschoot, who communicated by teleconference said the city should participate if this is the case.

“I think if there’s going to be a bunch of municipalities on here, we should join them.”

The Council passed an amended resolution, saying it would file an amicus brief if other municipalities did the same, and if the cost to the city did not exceed $3000.  If filed, the brief would be due on September 2nd.