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BBEDC supports Yes for Salmon

Isabelle Ross/KDLG

On June first, the board of directors for the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation voted unanimously to support the Yes for Salmon ballot initiative. 

With the board's vote, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation joins the Bristol Bay Native Association and many individual Bristol Bay tribes in supporting the ballot initiative.

“There was still some significant consideration as to whether, in fact, it was going to go on the ballot," said BBEDC CEO Norman Van Vactor. "There was also some legislation in Juneau, and so we kind of wanted to see how that all shook out before we really made an affirmative decision on this. But bottom line is that it was time for us to weigh in, one way or another.”

The initiative aims to increase protection for salmon habitat and proposes several broad changes to the current state law. Among the changes, it would toughen the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s permitting requirements for development around salmon streams. It would also give Alaskans more opportunities to comment during the permitting process for mines, dams and other projects in salmon habitat.

Critics of the proposal have said the initiative is too far-reaching and would impede – and even block – infrastructure projects. Such critics include Stand for Alaska, a coalition created to oppose Yes for Salmon.

“It’s written in such a broad form that the decisions that should be left to the scientists and the permitters will likely be left to lawyers and judges to kind of interpret what this language means," said campaign spokesperson Kati Capozzi. "In the affidavits that the state sent to the Supreme Court they said that this would categorically block certain roads and pipelines and dams and mines. So, there’s no question that this would absolutely have an impact on the economy across the state.”

While Van Vactor acknowledges that the initiative is broad, he said the BBEDC board ultimately voted to support it because the board wants to protect the interests of commercial, sport, and subsistence fishing in Bristol Bay. BBEDC also doesn’t think it would disrupt development as much as critics claim.

“BBEDC’s mission is to promote economy – sustainable, renewable economy in our region, and it’s only appropriate that we did what we did," Van Vactor said. "Is it worth it to step back, take a second look, make sure that scientific studies are done and are solid, and that all the safeguards necessary are taken before a project should proceed? Absolutely. Then again, at the end of the day we’re not in the business necessarily of getting to ‘yes,’ because if a project is going to create undue harm, then maybe it shouldn’t happen.”

The state of Alaska is challenging the ballot initiative in court. The Alaska Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by early September. If the court decides in favor of Yes for Salmon, it will be on the ballot in the November elections.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.