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Aulukestai v. Alaska

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20106
Nos. 7011, (Alaska, 05/29/2015)

The Supreme Court of Alaska held that the state's Department of Natural Resources should have provided public notice before issuing land and water use permits allowing intensive mineral exploration in the prospective Pebble Mine. The Alaska Constitution requires public notice when interests in land are transferred. A lower court held that notice was not required because the permits were nominally and functionally revocable and therefore did not transfer an interest in land. But the state's highest court disagreed, holding that the permits were not functionally revocable in light of the investment in prior exploration activities that would be lost if they were revoked. Where, as here, large sums have been invested, the government is effectively forced to honor the full term of the permit, because revoking it prematurely would cause a significant loss. In addition, the state has recognized the public importance of allowing the exploratory activities to proceed as a necessary step in the development of a mine, and the perceived public importance of the exploration also would deter the state from cutting short the exploration process. Revocation of the permits would also leave in place large-scale and long-lasting changes to the land that cannot be removed without significant damage to it. As such, the permits conveyed an interest in land and should have been preceded by public notice. The case was therefore reversed and remanded.