If Alaska fishermen want coffee at the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting, the Alaska Board of Fisheries might have to change the location to the Kenai Peninsula.
In a Nov. 16 letter to the Board of Fisheries, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, and Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague offered the board over $60,000 in service savings if the board were to hold its 2017 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting on the Peninsula instead of Anchorage.
The board spent a large chunk of time discussing a potential relocation at its annual October work session. Opponents of a location shift say the travel to the Peninsula will be prohibitive. Proponents say it’s been prohibitive for them for nearly two decades.
“Not having reasonable, periodic access to the (Board of Fisheries) process is simply unfair to the large populations of Alaskans living on the Kenai Peninsula,” the mayors’ letter reads.
The Board of Fisheries oversees all commercial, sport, and personal use fishing in the state waters of Alaska, which are within three miles of shore. The board operates in three-year cycles, reviewing each area and species type once every cycle.
The last Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting, which overwhelmingly focuses on salmon, was held in Anchorage in February 2014. At that meeting, as in 2011, the board made major amendments to its Kenai and Kasilof river management plans.
The board hasn’t held an Upper Cook Inlet meeting on the Peninsula since 1999, or five regulatory cycles.
Apart from issues of fairness, the Peninsula mayors make a fiscal offer in their letter. Board meetings are expensive, and due to the state’s fiscal situation the board is going to have to discuss cost-cutting measures. By volunteering local venues, they estimate to save the board $61,288, according to similar expenses from the 2014 meeting.
According to board Executive Director Glenn Haight, the bulk of board meeting expenses are, in fact, the exact services the Kenai officials are volunteering at no cost to the state: a place to hold the meeting, and the coffee service to fuel it.
Haight said the Egan Center venue for the 14-day 2014 meeting cost $41,000. Coffee service alone, which provides coffee, tea, and water for all board meeting attendees, cost $20,000 for the Downtown Anchorage meeting.
The Peninsula mayors say they would provide one of two available venues to the board for free: the Soldotna Regional Sports Center of the Kenai Central High School Auditorium and Challenger Center. Either city would also throw free joe into the deal, along with transportation service courtesy of local school buses.
Ancillary costs like board member travel, board support travel, and freight add another $3,000 to $4,000 to the tab, while division staff transportation and hotel costs are borne by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Board costs for hotel stays in Kenai or Soldotna would equal an Anchorage meeting; only one board member lives in Anchorage.
Both Kenai and Soldotna also promise one uniformed police officer to be present at the meeting.
Board support is funded from unrestricted general funds, which have been slashed in light of state budget shortfalls. Haight said even without further reductions to unrestricted general funds, the board is projecting a $170,000 shortfall for the 2017 fiscal year, when the Upper Cook Inlet meeting will occur. Board support has already ceased any further hiring and kept an eye on advisory committee travel to keep costs down.
“This is just a really basic kind of question that we have to ask ourselves,” said Haight. “Right out of the chute we’re in jeopardy for next fiscal year.”
The board will discuss solutions and cuts at its upcoming Bristol Bay finfish meeting in Anchorage in December. Coping strategies drafted by Haight include consolidating finfish and shellfish Southeast meetings, cancelling training meetings, furloughing board executive directors, and combining meetings.
Coffee service, Haight said, is “one of those things that would need to come off.”
At the October work session, the board voted unanimously to change the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting to Feb. 22-March 9, but only voted 4-3 in favor of discussing a UCI meeting location change at its December meeting.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker wrote a letter to the board Oct. 21, asking it to consider changing the location and promising to attend if it were held on the Peninsula.
“There has been much attention given to the controversies surrounding the Cook Inlet fisheries, and I feel we should attempt to improve the communication and exchanges among the many interested parties,” wrote Walker. “Holding a meeting on the Peninsula, possibly Soldotna, may show a willingness to consider points of view from local residents who may not have been able to participate over the past five board cycles.”
Several Alaska representatives have also expressed support for a location change in letters to the board, including Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, in a Nov. 9 letter, Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, and Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer in a letter from Sept. 24, 2014.
City managers and mayors from Kenai Borough, Homer, Seldovia, Soldotna, and Seward have also expressed support of a location change.
DJ Summers can be reached at email@example.com.