A Central Kenai Peninsula League of Women Voters forum Thursday night in Soldotna gave supporters and opponents of Ballot Measure 1 a chance to explain their perspectives and dispel misconceptions about the measure that would expand permitting and protections for anadromous fish habitat in Alaska.
Kaitlin Vadla and Laura Rhyner, with Cook InletKeeper, spoke for the Stand for Salmon side supporting the voter imitative, while Owen Phillips and Linda Hutchings, of Soldotna, represented the Stand for Alaska movement that opposes the measure.
The panel spoke to a full house in assembly chambers at the borough building in Soldotna and covered a lot of ground. Among the questions was what myth each panelist wants to dispel about the measure.
Phillips said he wants to make it clear that existing projects and activities in Alaska could be affected by new permitting requirements — up to and including the Alyeska Pipeline. Not as they are currently issued, but when they need to be renewed.
“When your permit lapses and you have to get a new one, you have to get it under this document,” Phillips said. “And if you cannot meet what this document says that is different from what we have right now — good, bad or otherwise —there is a possibility you will not be able to get that permit.”
The measure would create different types of permits for minor versus major projects, which Fish and Game would evaluate for potential harms to anadromous fish habitat. Vadla thinks the permitting wouldn’t be as onerous as opponents make it sound.
“Most of them don’t require renewal. They’re issued for a construction project, for a road, for infrastructure, and they don’t expire,” Vadla said. “So, basically, Fish and Game says, ‘Here’s this permit, build this thing, you have from here to here to do the building, and then, just make sure you don’t do it when salmon are spawning.’ Basically, that’s how most of these Title 16 permits work.”
Vadla said that in the new law, as with existing law, emergency work — such as cleaning up a spill or fixing a leak — doesn’t need to go through the permitting process. It just gets done.
Rhyner spoke to the perception that all waters in Alaska would be covered by the new law, from the Yukon River to your backyard lake. She said the measure seeks to add connected waterways to the established anadromous waters catalog that Fish and Game has already surveyed.
“All the imitative does is it says the rest of that waterbody and things that are connected to it also probably have fish in them, because the way we know how fish move through these systems,” Rhyner said. It’s not saying that, you know, an isolated lake in the middle of nowhere that’s not connected to any existing waterbodies, that is not going to require you to get a permit.”
Hutchings said she’s concerned about potential impacts to ocean activities within three miles of designated anadromous waterways on shore.
“So you’ve got to start thinking, ‘We’re not just talking habitat in fresh water, we’re talking habitat in the ocean, as well,’” Hutchings said.
That is just one round of questions fielded by the panel. To hear more, tune in to the Kenai Conversation at 10 a.m. Wednesday, when KDLL will air the entire forum.