By Bob Claus
March 12, 2010
The Sealaska Bill listening sessions on POW proved the bill is controversial and splits our communities. But they did not serve the stated purpose of letting affected communities be heard. Nor do the way they were handled give residents confidence that their statements will be accurately conveyed to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
There was great turnout, and many people spoke from the heart about this issue that is important to all of us who live here. The speakers in Craig were evenly split for and against the bill, Thorne Bay was solidly opposed to the bill, and Coffman Cove was solidly in favor.
The people in Edna Bay and Port Protection will be most directly affected by the legislation, but were not heard. In a rush to schedule meetings, organizers overlooked the notoriously bad weather in March and the fact that many residents would be fishing the spring halibut opening. No effort was made to rearrange schedules. This has been one of the major concerns about this legislation, that it is being pushed forward on an unrealistic timetable without adequate input from local voices. And again, the people most affected were effectively silenced.
The gentlemen from Senator Murkowki's office argued with people opposed to the bill in Craig, misrepresented the Craig meeting to the Thorne Bay group as being 2 to 1 in favor of the bill, and allowed Sealaska Corporation to take over the Coffman Cove meeting as another sales opportunity, complete with glossy propaganda materials. How does this help the Committee get an honest assessment of the situation?
This bill is unnecessary-Sealaska could fulfill its entitlement tomorrow without this legislation. It is overreaching-creating new categories of land management for corporate benefit. It is controversial - community concerns about access and impacts to their lives are real and still unaddressed. It cheapens valid Native rights concerns by using them to justify profit-focused actions by a divisive corporation. Southeast Alaskans all rely on the forest, but this bill seeks to address one corporation's needs at the expense of others, pitting neighbor against neighbor and disrupting productive efforts to find more balanced solutions for the Tongass.
Received March 11, 2009 - Published March 12, 2010
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