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Who serves who?

Mayor’s Tier 3 stand at odds with assembly

 

March 28, 2019 | View PDF



Mayor Jan Hill’s recent testimony on the Tier 3 nomination process raised concerns from some assembly members and the public this week about how she represents the borough.

By charter, the Haines Borough operates with a manager form of government, which means the manager may direct municipal officers and department heads in accordance with policies and procedures adopted by the assembly.

The Haines Borough Assembly is the sole lawmaking body in the borough, and the Mayor “acts as ceremonial head of the Haines Borough.” The Mayor presides at assembly meetings, has executive powers, and only votes in case of a tie.

Hill testified in a teleconference on March 20 in support of a senate bill that would require three state agencies’ approval before nominating waters for Tier 3 status, a designation that adds a level of protection to watersheds.

“The Haines Borough does not have an official position on the issue before the legislature except that the process must engage the people that live within the watershed of the nominated river, professional agencies and the legislature,” Hill said in a statement prepared in a collaborative effort between Mayor and borough manager, Debra Schnabel.

“The current bill under consideration requires review from DEC, DNR, and Fish and Game. To ensure representation of the community of people residing in the watershed, the borough recommends including review by the Department of Community and Regional Affairs also,” Hill said. “The Haines Borough recommends to this committee that a process for designating Tier 3 rivers include site visits from legislators and all recommending agencies.”

Assembly members told the CVN this week they never discussed on opinion on SB51; Five of six members have publicly stated favor of Tier 3 protection, while Hill has opposed the designation, calling it “extreme.” Assembly member Brenda Josephson opposes Tier 3.

“I don’t know how it’s gone from five out of six saying we want Tier 3 waters to the Mayor saying we want further stipulations,” assembly member Sean Maidy told the CVN this week.

Assembly members Heather Lende and Josephson also testified at the teleconference, identifying as citizens and not in their government roles.

“I was surprised that the borough had a position when we hadn’t discussed it and I was very careful to say that I was speaking for myself,” Lende said. “At the same time, I don’t necessarily disagree with what the Mayor said, we just didn’t discuss it.” Lende introduced herself as a borough assembly member, acting as a citizen, and testified against the new designation process “because it seems to me it will make it harder to protect the place we love,” she said.

Josephson did not mention her role as assembly member in her introduction, and supported SB51. “The Tier 3 designations place significant restrictions on communities in the watershed area and there’s no mechanism to undo such a designation,” she said. Josephson told the CVN she thought Hill’s comments were neutral.

Hill said she was elected by the community, not by the assembly, and she believes she has the authority to speak on behalf of the community.

“Right now, our assembly has decided that they don’t want a lobbyist and they have put that in the laps of the Mayor and the manager,” Hill said this week. “I represent the community.”

But is the community that Mayor Hill represents different than the one the assembly represents?

“That’s what it appears to be,” Hill said. “My job is to represent everybody, but it’s also the job of the assembly to represent everybody. So if five of our six assembly members are supporting something that maybe the majority of our community doesn’t support, then let’s talk about who isn’t doing their job.”

In September, the Haines Borough Assembly adopted a controversial resolution 4-2 in support of Ballot Measure 1, known as Stand for Salmon, an initiative that proponents said would protect Alaskan salmon by limiting large-scale development projects that threaten habitat.

In the October election, Ballot Measure 1 failed 401-286 among town voters. A similar schism occurred in 2014 when a former borough assembly opposed the legalization of marijuana in resolution form, while the majority of Haines voters supported its legalization in the polls.

Tier 3 designated waters, also known as Outstanding National Resource Waters, add a level of protection that would prohibit “new or increased discharges that would lower or degrade the existing water quality unless they were temporary or limited,” according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Federal water quality standards regulations require states to have anti-degradation standards. However, Alaska has not yet designated guidelines for that process.

Four Tier 3 waters have been nominated since 2010, including the Chilkat River.

The Chilkat River is currently designated Tier 2—a high quality waterway where natural water quality is better than the threshold necessary for designated uses. Water quality can be degraded for necessary and important social or economic development, according to state guidelines.

Assembly member and former Mayor, Stephanie Scott, said that sometimes there is an overstep as Mayor.

“Having been a Mayor myself, I understand her sense of responsibility,” Scott said. “She talked to a lot of people in town so I think that she probably feels that she’s accurately representing the community, but the process would really require assembly approval.”

“Jan has every right to speak her personal opinion on the manner,” assembly member Will Prisciandaro said. “I think if Jan’s going to take any stance on the borough at all it should be what the assembly directs her.”

 
 

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