Locals Request Referendum on Big Industry

Stakksberg Silicon Plant Helguvík.

Thousands of residents in Reykjanesbær, Southwest Iceland, are petitioning local authorities to hold a binding referendum on the future of two silicon plants in the area, RÚV reports. One of the plants, formerly owned by United Silicon, has been plagued by operational troubles since its initial opening in 2016. It remains unclear whether such a referendum would be legal and if so, binding.

The municipal council of Reykjanesbær has decided to consult the Parliamentary Committee on Local Government on the legality of holding a referendum to determine the future of the two plants in Helguvík. Stakksberg, a subsidiary of Arionbanki bank which took over United Silicon’s plant when that company went bankrupt, has asserted that such a referendum would have no legal validity, as the company holds all the necessary licences for operation. The company says ceasing operations would make Stakksberg liable for damages.

Trausti Fannar Valsson, assistant professor in administrative law, says 20% support is needed to push through a local referendum like the one Reykjanesbær residents are hoping for. What happens next, however, is not so simple. The municipal council would have the authority to word the question and to decide whether the referendum is binding or simply advisory. He also adds that “it is not possible to conduct a referendum on something that would be against the law or lead to laws not being met by the municipality.” It is unclear whether a referendum on the two plants would constitute such a breach.