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By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU — The Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that portions of an initiative aimed at protecting salmon be stricken as unconstitutional but decided that the rest of the measure can advance to the fall ballot.
In a written order, the court said the problematic parts would bar the state Fish and Game commissioner from granting a permit to a project that would cause "substantial damage" or have other impacts even if it is the judgment of the commissioner or Legislature that a project's public benefit would outweigh its effects on fish habitat.
The decision asks a lower court to direct Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott to sever the problematic portions and place the rest of the measure on the ballot.
The so-called Stand for Salmon initiative is set to appear on November's general election ballot.
Justice Daniel Winfree dissented in part, saying he would have gone further in severing other pieces.
The initiative has been the focus of an intense public relations campaign, with a coalition that includes resource development industries and Alaska Native corporations opposing the ballot measure.
The opposition group, Stand for Alaska — Vote No on One, said the court's decision to remove sections of the initiative "validates just how flawed and poorly crafted the measure is."
"Even with today's changes, this measure still replaces our science-based habitat management system with untested regulations that will result in job loss and kill current and future, vital projects," the group said in its statement.
Ryan Schryver, director of Stand for Salmon, one of the groups supporting the ballot measure, said the court's action preserves the "heart and soul" of what the initiative's supporters are hoping to achieve.
He said the remaining portions of the measure would give Alaskans a voice in the regulatory process and set guidelines for responsible development.
He described much of the criticism of the initiative as a "knee-jerk reaction from outside corporations" trying to confuse Alaskans.