Legislature should make decisions on state fisheries

Ballot Measure 1 is a risky way to make law.

The measure is a reaction to Pebble Mine, but would affect economic development throughout Alaska.

Its sponsors — led by a Native chief in the Bristol Bay region where the Pebble Mine is located — gathered sufficient signatures for registered Alaska voters to place the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. Outside special interests allied with sponsors in an effort to use the initiative to shut down economic development throughout Alaska.

The initiative encountered delays, however, when Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott wouldn’t certify it because the state maintained its content was unconstitutional. It wound up before the Alaska Supreme Court, which removed a couple items, maintaining that what remained retained the spirit of the measure.

The removed items attempted to usurp the authority of the Legislature and state agencies provided for in Alaska’sconstitution. The constitution designates authority for management of state resources.

The measure seeks to amend Alaska’s anadromous fish habitat permitting law, establishing new permitting practices for development projects with the potential to affect fish habitat.

Existing projects, operations and facilities with current permits wouldn’t be affected until, and if, they would need a new or renewed permit.

The measure provides three types of permits for anadromous fish habitat. They include a general permit, plus two permits with a double-track permitting system. Minor permits would be for projects with little potential effect on fish habitat. Major permits would be for projects with potentially significant adverse effects, and mitigation would have to occur at the site of the effect. Currently, mitigation can be accomplished at another site.

Opportunity for public comment on major permits and public notice of all permits also is included in the initiative, as are requirements for appeal processes and penalties for violations.

The Pebble Mine concerns are legitimate. If the mine is to proceed, it cannot be at the expense of the salmon in the Bristol Bay area and their habitat.

Nor should other fisheries around the state be placed in jeopardy because of economic development.

But, concurrently, salmon shouldn’t be placed above all other natural resources and economic development.

Initiatives such as this often create havoc for the state because they are poorly written and fail to consider the multiple concerns surrounding a topic. This measure doesn’t affect only salmon in the Bristol Bay area. It affects every public and private, including Native, development project located near a water body — big or small — in the state. The initiative has the potential to affect cities, towns, villages, boroughs, all of which require economic development and jobs. It would affect both existing and potential mine projects in the state’s Southeast region. Roads, bridges, water and sewer upgrades, and other public infrastructure projects would be affected. Pipelines, as well as new and expanding business and industry, are examples of other projects that the measure would affect.

It has the potential of delaying projects that used to take months to acquire a permit to years. Beyond that, not all of the implications are readily evident.

And Alaska already has an intensive permitting process.

The Legislature exists to deal with changes in law. It’s where topics such as these can be thoroughly reviewed for the benefit of the whole state instead of special interests. Specific to fish habitat, reform should be in such a public forum and include science-based research.

Come this November, Alaska cannot risk its economic future, particularly with a looming budget deficit and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends already reduced in response to the deficit. This measure will increase costs that the state can’t afford and decrease revenue-generating potential.

Let the Legislature, which represents the Alaska point of view, look at the topic in its next session.

Lt. Gov. Mallott has scheduled nine public hearings on the measure. The first occurred Friday in Juneau. Other hearings are in Kotzebue, Nome, Anchorage, Sitka, Fairbanks, Bethel and Dillingham. A statewide teleconference is set to begin at 1 p.m.Saturday, Oct. 13, for two hours. Residents of Ketchikan, Metlakatla and Prince of Wales Island would be able to join other Alaskans and testify telephonically from the Legislative Information Office.

— Ketchikan Daily News, Sept. 8, 2018

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