Citing concern over a lack of public notice, peninsula officials have asked the Alaska Board of Fisheries to rescind its decision to move the location of the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meeting from the Kenai-Soldotna area back to Anchorage, and to revisit it at a later date.
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen, Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce all signed a letter addressed to the Alaska Board of Fisheries outlining their disappointment with the board’s actions leading up to its vote to move the location of the Upper Cook Inlet 2020 Finfish meeting.
On Friday, Jan. 18, in an unexpected vote, the board decided to move the regulatory meeting from the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage. The meeting was originally going to be held in Anchorage, but a March 2018 vote moved the meeting to the Kenai-Soldotna area.
According to the letter, the vote — held on Jan. 18 during the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim finfish meeting — was taken without reasonable public notice and after peninsula officials were assured that no action would be taken. At the start meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, board chair Reed Moriskey mentioned that the Upper Cook Inlet meeting location would be discussed. On Friday, the board reversed their March 2018 decision with a 4-3 vote, bringing the 2020 meeting back to Anchorage.
“(The letter) is pretty explicit about what we feel was a flawed process. I think that if we’re going to increase people’s trust in government then this is the kind of thing that can’t happen,” Ostrander said.
The letter argues that, prior to the meeting, there was no advance notice given to the public that the meeting location would be revisited. Beyond the bureaucratic failures cited by the peninsula officials, the letter also claims the vote was taken despite personal assurances from Moriskey that no vote would be taken Friday.
Ostrander, who went to the Jan. 18 meeting with Queen, said that they were told that the vote would be postponed because of a lack of public notice.
“That sounded reasonable,” Ostrander said. “The fact is that this had been brought up after public testimony had been closed, with no formal public notice. The only reason we knew was because we got a text message.”
Ostrander and Queen stayed at the meeting until about noon, he said, before asking Moriskey again if a vote would be taken.
“He assured me twice that they would not be holding the vote that day, that it would be held at a later date,” Ostrander said. “We left Anchorage at about 1 p.m. and they voted on it at about 1:45 p.m… My initial reaction was shock and disbelief, frankly. When we pulled into Soldotna we got a call and we were told they had a vote. I honestly didn’t believe it, so, clearly, I was disappointed in the actions of the board. I did feel deceived and immediately knew that we would have to respond in some manner.”
The letter asks that the board rescind its decision and reschedule the issue to be considered at a later date.
“Regardless of the outcome of the eventual vote, we hope Board members recognize the need to reassure all Alaskans in the fairness of the public process,” according to the letter. “Addressing the location of the 2020 UCI Finfish meeting at a future date would also allow the Board to consider the decision within the context of the current policy establishing rotating meeting locations.”
The letter from Queen, Ostrander and Pierce joins a press release from the peninsula delegation released last week.
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org
By KAT SORENSEN