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A Wetlands Crusader

defending a "fen" in alaska

Angela CampbellLeft: Angela Campbell '02 stands in Boston's Fenway Park area, named for the kind of wetlands she defended in Alaska (photo: Dana Smith).

Answering a call for help from a handful of embattled environmentalists ultimately meant a trip to Alaska for Boston College Law School student Angela Campbell '02-- and a close look at the state's rough-and-tumble environmental politics.

Last April, Professor Zygmunt Plater told members of the Environmental Law Society that a group of Alaskan activists were looking for someone to do a few hours of free legal research. The environmentalists were suing their state's department of natural resources. They were demanding that it stop the Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) from putting eight towers for high voltage power lines in an environmentally sensitive fen, a rare type of wetlands, in the Tanana River basin outside Fairbanks.

Ironically, the huge, politically connected utility had asked the court to add its name to the lawsuit as a co-defendant with the department of natural resources. Campbell says the motion was intended to put the utility in a better position to bring a so-called SLAPP suit-- a strategic lawsuit against public participation. It would allow GVEA to ask for millions in compensation for delays in the construction of the power line.

Though final exams were fast approaching, Campbell found the time to write a memo for Harry Bader, the plaintiffs' pro bono lawyer, arguing that under Alaska law on intervention in civil cases, GVEA' s motion should be denied. The motion was granted, but the plaintiffs were so impressed with Campbell's memo that they invited her to Alaska to continue working with them.

She went for for ten days, lived in a log cabin with no running water, and worked for Bader, who runs a small law practice and teaches at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Campbell worked on a response to a GVEA motion to dismiss.

Apart from the legal struggle, Campbell was surprised by the political wrangling going on behind the scenes. She learned that Bader had been told by a faculty colleague that if he didn't quit the case, new faculty appointments to the school could be canceled. In addition, one of the activists had been warned to drop the suit or be killed.

Faced with these pressures and the threat of the SLAPP suit, the environmentalists settled before the judge ruled on the motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs won a partial victory, however; the settlement requires GVEA to fund a $10,000 study of the impact of development on the fen. The utility also unofficially agreed to change the path of the power line so that only three of the eight electrical towers will be sited in the fen.

"The quality of her work and the amount of indefatigable energy she devoted put us in a position that made a settlement possible," Bader says of Campbell. "Her argument was without doubt persuasive....Once the judge got her response to the motion to dismiss, the settlement discussion became fruitful." -- David Reich

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