More than a dozen people offered testimony about the controversial Ballot Measure 1 in Dillingham on Saturday. The ballot initiative, sponsored by Yes for Salmon, aims to strengthen salmon habitat protection. Only one person who spoke at the Bristol Bay hearing opposed the measure.
After gathering signatures and navigating litigation, the Yes for Salmon ballot initiative will go before voters in just over a month. Before that happens, state law requires that public hearings be held across the state. Dillingham hosted the final in-person hearing on Saturday. Almost all who testified spoke in favor of the initiative, which aims to strengthen habitat protection for wild salmon by making several changes to the state permitting process.
Lt. Governor Byron Mallott presided over the hearings. He said that it was imperative that one of them take place in Dillingham.
“The world’s largest red salmon run takes place here. The habitat that maintains and protects and sustains that salmon run is absolutely critical to the culture, the society, the economy of this region. And I just felt we could not have hearings around the state on this subject without coming to Dillingham,” said Mallott.
Gayla Hoseth of Dillingham, a primary initiative sponsor, offered the opening statement for those in favor of the Ballot Measure 1.
She said, “The problem is that Alaska’s current fish habitat protection and permitting law is too general to truly balance sustainable fisheries and responsible development. Under the current law, the commissioner shall issue a fish habitat permit unless the plans and specifications are insufficient for the proper protection of fish and game. However, there is no definition of what the proper protection of fish and game means.”
In all, 17 people spoke at the hearing. Sixteen were in favor of the measure, including representatives from the Bristol Bay Native Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Association and United Tribes of Bristol Bay.
A few who supported Ballot Measure 1 said that the proposed law could be too restrictive in its current form, but they said they would vote for it in hopes that the legislature would amend it. Alaska House Representative Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham was among those.
“If I have to choose between putting in overly restrictive law today that, in my view, will get modified, will get pulled back, will be deliberated in the legislature like it should have been all these years, that overly restrictive approach versus doing nothing at all and sort of keeping these 60 some-year-odd on the books, when we know times are changing in Alaska…I support this ballot measure. I intend to vote for it,” said Edgmon.
One person at the hearing opposed the initiative, Dan O’Hara of Naknek. O’Hara is the mayor of the Bristol Bay Borough, but at Saturday’s hearing he spoke representing himself.
“I think it would probably cause a budget increase. That is not something that we can afford right now,” O’Hara explained. “One of the second things I would be concerned about on Proposition 1 would be that we have a massive system in Bristol Bay [Borough] for our septic system. We’re in the process of changing that system. And the permitting system with Prop 1 I think would have a real impact on something like that, and that’s one of the concerns that I have.”
Everyone who attended the meeting and wished to testify was given time to speak. There will be a final statewide hearing held via teleconference on October 13. Written comments on the Ballot measure are due online or by mail on November 2. Then eligible voters will then have the opportunity to vote on the proposed law during the November 6 election.
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