Assembly adopts conservation resolution amid controversy
September 27, 2018
The Haines Borough Assembly adopted 4-2 a contentious resolution in support of the Stand for Salmon citizen’s initiative on Tuesday evening. Assembly member Brenda Josephson and assembly member Sean Maidy were opposed, citing that they do not feel the local government should have an opinion on a state-wide issue on voters’ ballots next month.
Ballot Measure 1 proponents say it protects Alaskan salmon by limiting large-scale development projects that threaten to destroy habitat. Opponents of Ballot Measure 1 say it would cause job losses and delayed building progress due to prolonged and costly permitting processes. Many have thrown their weight behind an opposition movement, Stand for Alaska.
Alaska, which boasts the largest population of all five species of Pacific salmon, has seen a decline in runs in the past year. Notably, the Alaska Board of Fisheries designated Chilkat kings as a stock of concern in 2018.
The motion to adopt or oppose the Stand for Salmon resolution brought many locals out on Tuesday night to speak to the assembly. In public comment, opinions were divided, and many residents encouraged the assembly not to state their opinion at all.
Diana Lapham expressed concern over the language of the initiative and its potential to affect homeowners with anadromous streams.
“I have two acres, I have a stream that runs through…I have a vision of possibly developing,” she said. “I am very concerned about that verbiage in the initiative, now you’re affecting property owners who aren’t affected by the fishing industry.”
Elsa Sebastian, director at Lynn Canal Conservation, said that most of the anadromous streams in the Haines Borough have already been declared and surveyed. “If a stream is declared anadromous and somebody wants to develop on their property in a way that might destabilize a bank, they already have to apply for permits,” she said.
“I don’t believe it’s your place, so I’m not supporting either of these initiatives,” Karen Hess, owner of Chilkat River Adventures, said to the assembly. “It’s up to the voters. I don’t think it’s up to the assembly.”
Others, like Kathleen Menke, told them, “If you don’t speak for us on this issue, I’m not sure that there’s anything worthy of you doing. This is probably the most important issue facing our community and the state right now,” she said.
Jessie Badger, representing Alaska Miners Association Haines Chapter, read a statement supporting Stand for Alaska ballot. “Mining projects and activism in Haines are being done responsibly with strong focus on protecting our environment while supplying for our community,” Badger said.
Retired Fish and Game habitat biologist, Ben Kirkpatrick, said he stands with salmon. He said protecting freshwater habitat is essential to mitigate poor marine survival. “These things tend to go in cycles, so when that marine survival does change, which it probably will… we want to make sure that we have a fresh water habitat here.”
Assembly member Maidy, who opposed the bill, said that while he stands for salmon, he doesn’t believe it’s appropriate for the assembly to stand for either when it’s going to a vote of the people. “That is the job of a representative government, to do the most for the most,” he said.
George Figdor said the assembly had the right to adopt the resolution.
“A resolution is the assembly taking a position on some matter and issuing their opinion and that’s exactly what you’re doing, and [it] carries no authority at all,” Figdor said.
Assembly member Heather Lende, who recommended the resolution with assembly member Stephanie Scott, reminded the audience why she brought it forward.
“This is a positive resolution, it’s not against anything. It’s for everything that we are. The Chilkat and Chilkoot rivers, their first names are “baskets of fish”. The Tahini means mother’s water.
The reason why people have lived in Haines for thousands of years was because there was salmon and it sustained everything here, and in lots of ways it still does.”