Letter to the editor: Err on the side of the environment

There are many misconceptions regarding the Stand for Salmon initiative, Proposition 1. I hope to resolve some of the confusion. I retired from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game after 20 years of service, including five years issuing ADF&G Title 16 Habitat Permits. During my career, I sampled all sizes of waterbodies for the different life stages of salmon. Unless there is a waterfall or otherwise very steep gradient, these waterbodies that connect to the ocean are teeming with salmon. Juvenile salmon spend one to three years rearing in rivers, tributaries, and lakes. We cannot have sustainable salmon runs without healthy habitats for juvenile fish. While there are many ways to adversely affect our salmon runs and natural occurrences we cannot control, we have the ability to protect our salmon habitat. These small juvenile fish need the protection of bank habitat (grasses, roots, and overhanging vegetation) to seek protection from prey, find their food (macroinvertebrates), rest from fast currents, and cooler water temperatures from the shade provided. Title 16 regulations adopted at statehood were written to protect salmon habitat.

Title 16 regulations work very well for small projects; however, they need updating for new large projects to sustain our salmon runs. We have several proposed large projects looming on the horizon that have potential to destroy large areas of salmon habitat. This proposition will not change the small projects – they fall under the category of avoiding and minimizing damage to salmon habitat. This includes projects with activity below the ordinary high water adjacent to private and public property as well as road construction involving bridges and culverts, and pipeline crossings. New bridges, fish passage culverts, and directional drilling for pipelines can all be done avoiding and minimizing habitat loss. Habitat Division works with ADOT, utilities, pipeline, and construction companies every day on such projects – these will NOT change. Proposition 1 proposes changes to large projects that require mitigation; these are projects that cannot avoid or minimize damage to salmon habitat. A good example of this is the proposed Pebble and Chuitna mines that will remove, displace salmon streams, and large areas of salmon habitat. Currently, large projects can mitigate their damage by purchasing lands less valuable for preservation in different areas of the Alaska. Proposition 1 will require mitigation to occur in the same watershed, at the discretion of the Commissioner, require a performance bond to clean up damage, and public notice so you and I know about the large projects. Think about the coal ash basins flooding in North Carolina today polluting the watershed downstream with hazardous chemicals. Do you want a tailings leach occurring in the Bristol Bay watershed if Pebble Mine is constructed? If a large mine was built, wouldn’t you want a performance bond in place to cover the damages and clean-up?

Please make an informed decision; read the Proposition online. Note the language that the courts redacted. When in doubt err on the side on the environment and please VOTE on November 6.

— Patti Berkhahn, Soldotna

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