Even without all six members present Wednesday night, the Soldotna city council narrowly voted against a resolution opposing the statewide ballot measure one.
Stand for Salmon, as it’s come to be known, would update the state’s habitat protection laws for anadromous streams across the state. Opponents have said it will make development and construction more expensive.
Council member Lisa Parker introduced the resolution. She says her main concern is what any new habitat rules would mean for the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which discharges into the Kenai river. A number of expensive upgrades are underway at the plant, and Parker says the citizen initiative introduces uncertainties for the city.
“My concern is with the potential impacts to the city budget as well as the rate payers, the people who are paying for this. And, should we need to make significant changes to our treatment plant when we are making the application to get a new Department of Environmental Conservation permit for discharge, what’s going to be the impact back to the city.”
How the ballot initiative would impact projects around the state is yet unknown. In broad terms, the initiative puts the onus on identifying and avoiding construction in anadromous streams on permit applicants. That, predictably, hasn’t sat well with the state’s major industries.
But the fishermen and environmental advocates who testified Wednesday night, and who were the vast majority of those offering opinions, feel the initiative is only a good start. Cook Inlet Keeper’s Bob Shavelson pointed out that, even if prop one is approved, there will still be opportunities for the city to work with the state on any permits it will need for the wastewater treatment plant.
“If the ballot measure passes, the Department of Fish and Game will go through a public notice and comment rulemaking under the Alaska Administrative Procedures Act, and that will allow everyone an opportunity at the table, including anyone that has a discharge (permit) that wants to assert their position on that. I have no doubt that Soldotna would be joined by a lot of other people that would urge the Department of Fish and Game not to enact a rule that would be prohibitive.”
“With proposition one, it puts wording into place that ensures that when a project is being permitted, that salmon and salmon habitat are under consideration. Every Alaskan should want that. We should want to know if a project is going to be permitted, that salmon and salmon habitat are going to be protected through that process," said Dwight Kramer, Chair of the Kenai Area Fisherman's Coalition.
The question coming back to the council was less one about whether to protect anadromous habitat, but how those protections should be put in place. Parker hopes discussions like this will help provide more answers.
“Maybe though this process, we will get something, an answer from the Department of Environmental Conservation as to the impacts that this initiative will have. It’s going to be written by the Department of Fish and Game, but if DEC is the one writing our (discharge) permit, Fish and Game could throw a zinger in the process. I brought this forward because of the direct impacts to the city of Soldotna.”
Mayor Nels Anderson has been called upon this year to cast a tie breaking vote on some other contentious issues. And while this wouldn’t be one of them, he let the council know how he’ll be voting on the ballot proposition in November.
“I don’t think this resolution goes far enough, actually. I don’t think we have the ability to put the screws to anybody and say ‘hey, let’s manage this fishery to return the fish to a decent size on the Kenai’...I think over time we have done a lot in terms of habitat protection, there’s no question about it. But if there aren’t any fish to save, it doesn’t help much. If you close the barn door after cows are gone, the cows are still not there and I’m not sure that we’re ever going to get those back. As you can tell, I’m passionate about this. I really don’t want to see (happen here) what’s happened elsewhere.”
The resolution failed on a 3-2 vote. Council member Linda Murphy was absent.