The Alaska Policy Forum is part of a nation-wide network of Koch brothers-funded extreme right-wingers advocating for the privatization of public education, “right-to-work” laws and elimination of most safeguards for our air, land and water, and its recent claims that those who are advocating for updates to Alaska’s existing salmon habitat permitting laws are “outsiders” is a classic deflection. The fact is, large-scale industrial development poses real risk to Alaska’s wild salmon runs, and now is the time to modernize salmon habitat laws.
Development projects can and should happen. The question for the moment is: Will we take the steps to do these projects right? A “yes” on Ballot Measure 1 is the answer Alaska’s salmon, and the people who rely on them, need. A “no” leads us down the same path trod by every other region that once enjoyed salmon runs like those we still love and depend on.
In the past 15 years, Alaska’s safeguards and oversight have been eroded. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Habitat Division has been hollowed out. The Coastal Zone Management Program has been eliminated. Meanwhile, federal laws like the Clean Water Act are under attack. It’s time for us Alaskans to take control of our future.
Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay is the starkest example of the current unprecedented threats to Alaska’s salmon. But the threats aren’t just on the horizon. Recent system failures and a couple near misses can also teach us a lot.
We saw first-hand how threadbare the existing safety net truly is in 2011 when an Australian mining company operated for two years in total disregard of the permits and agreements entered with ADF&G and the Alaska Department Environmental Conservation. In August of that year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist flying a survey over the Salmon River near Goodnews Bay observed discharge from the Platinum Creek Mine, which was causing extremely turbid waters in the river. For two full mining seasons XS Platinum Inc. dumped a toxic slurry of untreated placer mining wastewater from its Platinum Creek Mine into the Salmon River, compromising the survival and habitat of salmon and other fish species in the waterway.
In 2014, five officers and employees of XSP were indicted for conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act, violations of the Clean Water Act permits issued by EPA and ADEC and for submitting false statements to state and federal permitting agencies. The State did not join in the case or pursue any additional prosecution. To add insult to injury, several company officials avoided punishment when they skipped the country. This is clearly a system in need of an update.
Salmon dodged a major bullet in the proposed Chuitna strip coal mine on the west side of Cook Inlet. The first phase called for the strip mining of coal through 13.7 miles of salmon spawning and rearing habitat, the removal of 1,361 acres of wetlands and the discharge of 7 million gallons of water a day into the Chuitna River. A total of 57 miles of salmon stream were ultimately at risk. The proponent of the project, PacRim, said they would rebuild the salmon stream when they were done, a feat no mining company has ever accomplished anywhere on Earth. The only thing that stopped this travesty was the market — a ton of coal is now worth less than a king salmon. This is cold comfort, especially when state officials are saying they are open to another proposal to mine the area.
Finally, there’s the proposed Susitna-Wantana Dam project, shelved by Governor Walker due to cost. Mega dams are terrible for salmon. We know this. Yet a state agency pushed the project anyway. It’s a ridiculous situation in which those responsible for stewardship of salmon runs were asked to sit on the sidelines while another state agency pushed a plan to fundamentally alter one of Alaska most important salmon systems. Again, clear rules and reasonable laws and regulations did not stop Susitna — it was cost.
The rest of the Pacific Northwest, after approving these same kinds of projects without protections for salmon habitat, has spent billions of dollars to restore once-thriving salmon runs. Alaska is heading in that direction, but it’s not too late. A “yes” vote on Ballot Measure 1 on November 6 allows us to chart a better course.
Tim Bristol, Longtime Alaskan conservationist
Executive Director, SalmonState
Support for the re-election of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott
In most rural villages, schools are the heart of activities for everyone who lives there. Celebrations, feasts, ceremonies, sporting events, and funerals take place in the largest facility available which is usually the school. Closing a school is closing a community. Once we tell families with children they are no longer important by shutting them out, or forcing them to be split apart, there is no reason for them to stay and the community loses its vitality and reason for existence.
I worry that Mike Dunleavy sees cutting funds and closing schools as the way to balance the budget. He says he will restore a larger Permanent Fund Dividend check. How can this be done with no plan to increase revenue? The only plan he touts is cutting.
As a lawmaker and former educator, he supported some of the biggest cuts to education funding. I fear this is the type of backwards thinking that will only hurt Alaska’s children instead of supporting them. Education is a large portion of the budget as it should be. We MUST provide the best education possible for our children if we are to have competent leaders into the future. Forcing our children to leave their homes to be educated is not the answer. Reducing or eliminating resources from our education system which has already been cut to the bone, is a huge mistake and cannot be accepted by Alaskans.
I’m not the first to point out the history and failure of forcing Alaska’s children to leave their families and homes to attend school. It has been clearly shown in numerous ways over the years. Does Mike Dunleavy understand the history of Alaska and that the state was sued over this exact issue and LOST (Molly Hootch)?
Further, the state was sued over a lack of resources being put into schools in rural communities and LOST (Kasayulie). Creating boarding schools in hub towns will not work. It has been tried and it FAILED.
I support the re-election of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott. As a now-retired 37 year teacher and mentor, it should be no surprise my most important issue is education. The support of families and communities is paramount in assuring our future is solid and our kids have the education they need to lead us in the years to come.
Governor Walker has protected education funding and supported forward funding to help school districts plan ahead to make good decisions in budgeting. I have watched as his administration united the fractured education community behind the Education Challenge. When nobody else wanted to deal with the fiscal crisis, he stepped up. Because of his leadership, funding for our schools doesn’t depend 90% on the price of oil. He has provided stability to our teachers and our students. No other candidate in this race has courageously confronted the challenge. A vote for anyone but Walker risks taking us back to pink slipping teachers, or shutting down our community schools.
His leadership shows a clear commitment to ALL children in Alaska. We need to unite behind him.
Vote No on Ballot Measure 1 says former Attorneys General
As former Attorneys General, and Alaskans fortunate enough to call this great state home, we urge Alaskans to vote “No” on Ballot Measure 1.
The citizens who drafted our state constitution understood that the protection of our natural resources was of the utmost importance, but they also acknowledged that a state with an abundance of natural resources, yet thinly populated and with little connectivity in terms of a road system, would have to rely on the responsible development. This principle is best expressed in Article VIII, Section 1 of our constitution, which states that “[i]t is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.”
Ballot Measure 1 disrupts this balance to the detriment of all Alaskans. The Alaska Supreme Court recently ruled that the initiative could remain on the ballot, but only after striking its unconstitutional sections. However, even after striking the most onerous provisions, the court observed that “viewed as a whole,” it was apparent that Ballot Measure 1 would create a broad new definition of what is protected fish habitat and make Alaska’s “fish habitat protection statutes significantly more restrictive.”
For example, Ballot Measure 1 contains, according to the Alaska Supreme Court, “a plethora of undefined terms.” For landowners trying to comply with the law, this is a step in the wrong direction—and this is just as true for an entity seeking to develop a large mine as it is for land owners wishing to install a culvert on their property. It also radically expands the opportunity for legal challenges to granted permits, allowing anyone to challenge a permit in court resulting in costly delays and endless litigation.
Under current laws and regulations, studies are required to determine whether a body of water contains certain kinds of fish. If Ballot Measure 1 passes, this flips, and all waters in the state will be assumed to be fish habitat until proved otherwise. This has the potential to create a legal quagmire for property owners, especially private citizens. Thousands of Alaskans have riverfront or lake front property, and there are many improvements to property that might impact a body of water, such as a stream, running on private property. Ballot Measure 1 may force a landowner to pay for an expensive habitat study to prove that fish will not be impacted by a planned improvement.
Worse, Ballot Measure 1 changes the penalties from civil to criminal for property owners who fail to secure the required permits. Failure to seek a permit for even minor construction activity in a river flood plain, which encompasses huge areas of Alaska, will make individual Alaskans, workers on municipal projects, and business owners criminals under our laws.
We are not alone in expressing grave doubts. We join dozens of groups and organizations in opposing this Ballot Measure. Contractors, regional and village native corporations, labor unions, resource development and energy companies, and responsible Alaskans are rightfully concerned that another significant project may never be built in this state if the initiative passes – and this would certainly be true for rural Alaska as well.
Ballot Measure 1 is a bad law. It has not been subject to public comment, hearings, or review by regulators or independent scientists. Alaska deserves better than Ballot Measure 1, and we urge Alaskan voters to reject this fatally flawed measure when they vote on November 6.
Dan Sullivan via Mike Anderson
Former State of Alaska Attorneys General