Juneau - Voters in a small southwest Alaska borough narrowly passed a measure blocking a proposed gold and copper mine that conservationists said would have threatened one of the world's premier wild salmon fisheries in a local election that gained national attention, pitting environmental and business interests on opposing sides.
The vote bans large-scale resource extraction - including mining - that would destroy or degrade salmon habitat. The measure was aimed squarely at Pebble Mine, a massive gold and copper operation planned near the headwaters of Bristol Bay and one of the world's premier wild salmon fisheries.
Unofficial results, released by the Lake and Peninsula Borough clerk late Monday, showed 280 in favor of the measure and 246 against.
The mine is a joint venture of Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and Anglo American plc of the United Kingdom.
The proposal, like the project itself, was the subject of an intense public relations campaign on both sides. And the vote is unlikely to be the last word on whether, or how, the mine is built - a court challenge has already been filed.
Pebble Limited Partnership, the group promoting the project, has argued, in part, that the measure would improperly bypass the role of the local planning commission. The office of Alaska's attorney general has said the initiative would enact an ordinance that is "unenforceable as a matter of law."
A judge has put the case on hold until Nov. 7.
Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said the company would press ahead with its plans
, in spite of the vote and passage of what he said company officials believe to be an illegal law.
Voters were "subjected to a prolonged advertising campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation about the Pebble project," he said in a statement. "We believe this has done a disservice to the people of Southwest Alaska and we will continue our efforts to share our perspective that Pebble can be done safely to co-exist with clean water, healthy fisheries and traditional ways of life, while generating decades of economic and social benefits for the people of the region."
Pebble Mine would be located 200 miles (320 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage and has been described as potentially the world's largest man-made excavation. Though project officials have said repeatedly that Pebble hasn't completed a pre-feasibility study or formally submitted a mine plan, critics say the potential footprint of the project could cover 15 square miles (39 square kilometers), with an open pit and network of roads and power lines, and could disrupt, if not destroy, a way of life in rural Alaska.
Jackie Hobson, a supporter of the so-called Save Our Salmon Initiative, said the results "prove once and for all that Native Alaskans will not allow important salmon habitat to be destroyed for the sake of enriching foreign corporations."
The election was conducted by mail, with ballots having to be postmarked by Oct. 4; officials counted them Monday.