More than a dozen community leaders travel to Juneau calling for better salmon habitat protection
By MARY KAUFFMAN
February 23, 2018
Alaska’s Board of Fisheries submitted a letter to the State Legislature in January 2017 asking for an update to a 60 year old law guiding development in salmon habitat.
HB 199 would update this old Alaska’s law governing development in salmon habitat and encourage responsible development. Earlier this week, a separate group of community leaders also provided testimony against Pebble Mine in a legislative hearing, citing the harmful impacts the mine would have on wild salmon. The conversations with legislators highlighted an issue that has become one of the top priorities for Alaskans during this year’s legislative session.
“Wild salmon are everything to me, to my family and to my community,” said Thomas Tilden, First Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council. “We are not saying no development, what we want is development done responsibly. We are asking for an update to a 60-year-old law that has not been adjusted since statehood.”
Community leaders traveling to Juneau in favor of House Bill 199 included Tom Tilden from Nunamta Aulukestai in Dillingham; Tim and Mary Wonhola, New Stuyahok Elders; Mike Friccero, a Kodiak and Bristol Bay commercial fisherman; former State Senate President and backcountry guide Rick Halford from Chugiak and Aleknagik; and Jasmin Ieremia, a Petersburg teen advocate who commercial fishes with her family and other community leaders from Talkeetna, Anchorage, Sitka and Homer.
Alaskans from across the state have voiced support for improving salmon habitat protections, an issue that has unified users – from urban anglers to rural subsistence communities to commercial fishermen.
There are those who oppose House Bill 199. In a January 2018 letter to the Rep. Stutes from Lorali M. Simon, Usibelli Coal Mine's Vice President of External Affairs, Simon writes , "Alaska's permitting system already sets high standards for the protection of public health and the environment, including fish habitat. By definition, a permitting process is intended to permit an activity. The opposite of permitting as activity would be denial of an activity. Alaska does not have a denial system - it has a permitting system. However, HB 199 creates a denial system.
Simon further wrote, "Usibelli Coal Mine is concerned with many aspects of HB199 including many of the similarities in WOTUS, such as jurisdictional reach, the expansion of regulatory oversight, and increased uncertainty for community and resource development projects."
Usibelli Coal Mine was founded in 1943 and has grown to become the largest coal mining operation in Alaska. UCM currently has a work force of approximately 115 employees, and operates year-round. Mine production has grown from 10,000 tons in 1943 to an average between 1.2 and 2 million tons of coal per year.
The Council of Alaska Producers also submitted a letter of opposition to the Alaska House Special Committee on Fisheries in February 2018.
Karen Matthias, Executive Director of the council, wrote, "CAP remains concerned that mining projects could not be developed under HB199 and that is would also jeopardize the continuation or expansion of existing mines. The operating mines in Alaska were built under modern environmental laws and their operations are strictly monitored by state and federal agencies. Their excellent track records are testament to both their commitment to responsible development and to Alaska's world class permitting system. The vital industry directly and indirectly provided almost 9,000 jobs in Alaska, revenue to state and local governments, and benefits to Alaska Natives through the ANCSA revenue sharing requirements."
Matthias said the Council of Alaska Producers are equally concerned that HB199 would endanger Alaska jobs and threaten any expansion of Alaska's limited transportation infrastructure, pipelines, and hydroelectric projects. "It would also restrict opportunities for Alaska communities to grow and prosper."
The Council of Alaska Producers is a non-profit association formed in 1992 to represent the interests of large metal mines and mine developmental projects in Alaska.
Stand for Alaska campaign co-chair Joey Merrick of the Laborers’ Local 341 said the initiative poses a grave risk to his members’ jobs. “Alaska already is in a serious recession with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. The last thing we need is more expensive, time consuming, and unnecessary policies that cost Alaskans their livelihoods,” Merrick said.
Campaign co-chair Aaron Schutt of Doyon Ltd., an Alaska Native corporation based in Fairbanks, said passage of the initiative will hurt communities and people in rural Alaska.
“Projects like building a road or a water treatment plant in rural Alaska will be nearly impossible if this measure becomes law. Our communities cannot grow and thrive under policies like this,” said Schutt.
Campaign co-chair Marleanna Hall of the Resource Development Council for Alaska asserts that the initiative is too broad and vague and “is based on the mistaken belief that current regulations are inadequate to protect salmon habitat.”
Quoting a news release, Stand for Alaska believes state regulatory policies should be based on sound-science and developed under a fair and transparent process inclusive of Alaska citizens. The language in this initiative, SFA said, was drafted in private, not subject to a public review process and much of the funding to place it on the ballot was paid for by outside special interest groups.
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