It’s prudent that the Haines Borough start socking away money for major repairs or replacement of its premier facilities, like the Chilkat Center and swimming pool. Creation of "Friends of …" groups and brainstorming improved efficiencies are also good ideas. But developing a plan for cuts in anticipation of shortfalls is an unwarranted level of fret. If state or federal income evaporates, we’ll either tax ourselves more to pay for facilities, or reduce or eliminate operations. We ran this fire drill in 1986, when the per barrel price of oil dropped from about $50 to $16 overnight. State cuts included reduced school funding and weekend snow plowing. We lost some nice things – like Community Education-sponsored movie nights at the Chilkat Center – and started paying for others – like operation of our swimming pool, but we adjusted. We can do it again.
A borough decision to spend $15,000 double-checking state management of the area’s sockeye fisheries is a sound decision and appropriate use of the municipality’s raw fish tax revenues. You don’t have to live long in Alaska to grasp that many of the state’s political battles revolve around a basic question: Who gets the fish? In recent years, it appears Haines has been shortchanged. Success of hatchery chum releases in Lynn Canal and the recent spike in salmon values have taken the heat off the state to maintain robust returns of wild sockeye to Chilkoot and Chilkat lakes. The possibility this year that seine fishermen may have intercepted our already weak red returns compounds that concern. Fish and Game’s data show red returns peaked at Chilkoot in the mid-1980s and at Chilkat in the late 1990s. Fishermen justifiably fear those numbers won’t be seen again. Ensuring they do is a battle worth joining.
Famed northern writer John Haines said in Alaska, the land gets into everything. In Haines, the fish get into everything. Because of their importance to bears and eagles, they drive a big chunk of the tourism industry, as well as providing food to eat and to sell to others in commercial and sport fisheries. Recently we’ve learned fish also fertilize our forests. That’s why Haines Borough leaders are obligated to address permitting of the Connelly Lake project and why they need to hold Alaska Power and Telephone to the strictest environmental standards. Fish pay the bills around here. They’re not expendable.
Think Haines first this holiday season. Friday is the Chamber of Commerce’s Doorbuster promotion and many businesses are offering specials. Shopping here is your strongest vote in our community’s future. Cast it.