The state has appealed the salmon initiative to the Supreme Court, but supporters can gather signatures

(Photo by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Flickr)

In a not all-that-surprising move, the state of Alaska announced today that it will appeal last week’s decision on the salmon habitat initiative to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, following the input of the Department of Law, initially invalidated the initiative for failing to meet the constitutional guidelines, but a Superior Court decision last week reversed the decision. If the decision had been allowed to stand, the initiative sponsors would have been able to move forward with the signature gathering process for the 2018 ballot.

The state argues the initiative violates the constitution because the new restrictions and regulations it would impose on fish habitat effectively amount to an allocation of state resources. The state constitution bars initiatives from allocating or spending state resources. The state and pro-development groups argue the initiative would effectively stop development in some parts of the state.

Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner sided with the sponsors of the initiative, arguing the new regulations were more focused on the quality of a state resource rather than how those resources are used. The initiative would institute heightened regulatory standards for developments that could negatively impact anadromous fish habitat.

In announcing the appeal to the Supreme Court, Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said the Supreme Court needs to weigh in on the issue.

“We take no position on whether 17FSH2 is good policy. This is about the superior court’s legal conclusion and our duty to defend the Alaska Constitution, and we believe the superior court got it wrong. The Alaska Supreme Court’s case law on initiatives prohibits the type of resource allocations that 17FSH2, by its terms, makes a foregone conclusion. The Legislature—and only the Legislature—can decide how to allocate this public asset among industry, fisheries, and other competing interests and uses.”

The state has requested an expedited hearing for the issue. The Department of Law also noted the signature petitions for the initiative have already been published and delivered to the sponsors. Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said the pending appeal doesn’t prevent the group from beginning to gather signatures.

Opposition group formed

This week also saw the formation of an opposition group to fight the initiative, which they call “anti-development.” The group, called Stand for Alaska, has the backing of folks with the Resource Development Council, the Alaska Chamber, Alaska Laborers Local 341 and Doyon, Limited.

“As the state’s largest private land owner, this initiative, if passed, will prevent Doyon from developing the vast resources that we received under ANCSA, and will destroy our ability to create a sustainable socioeconomic future for Alaska Native people,” said Aaron Schutt, the president and CEO of Doyon, in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement this week.

Following the announcement of the group, the group backing the initiative changed its name from “Stand for Salmon” to “Yes for Salmon.”

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