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At Public Hearing in Nome, Both Sides Make Their Case For or Against Ballot Measure 1

A close-up view of a silver salmon, caught in a net.

On September 11, Lt. Governor Byron Mallott stopped in Nome to host a public hearing on Ballot Measure 1, which would bring changes to the permitting process for fishing in Alaska waters. Citizens were invited to speak for two minutes on the initiative, or they could submit a written testimony. Sponsored representatives from both sides spoke.

The Lt. Governor, under the advice of the Department of Law, had previously declared the initiative unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court then declared it constitutional. In Nome, Mallott explained his current stance:

“I am now agnostic… the Supreme Court has declared it constitutional. My obligation is to allow the citizens of Alaska to hear it fully.”

Were Ballot Measure 1 to pass, it would create a two-tiered permitting system. Projects would be considered either “minor” or “major” when applying for a fish habitat permit. If a project is considered “major,” it would have to undergo a public review. The initiative only applies to anadromous fish (species, like salmon, that migrate from salt water upstream to fresh water to spawn).

Marleana Hall was born and raised in Nome and serves as the Executive Director for the Resource Development Council of Alaska. She spoke as the campaign chair of “Stand for Alaska — Vote No on Ballot 1”:

“Our message today is that there is severe concerns with the ballot measure — and not only what it will do to resource development across the state but also to community development. ‘Vote No on One’ is asking our fellow Alaskans to protect our opportunities and to protect our fish because we believe that, when we develop our resources across the state, we do it right.”

Hall noted her campaign believes that if the initiative were to pass, projects such as upgrading the wastewater facility in the Snake River, building new bridges, or expanding the Nome airport could all be in jeopardy, due to what she calls the  “vague wording in the bill.”

Hall also spoke to KNOM personally, outside of her capacity with “Vote No on One,” and expressed anxiety that the initiative could threaten projects that help develop communities, citing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline system. She says that Alaska Natives especially could benefit from these jobs.

“When we see outside interests come in and push an initiative like this that will not help our Native corporations, will not help our rural communities, I personally become very concerned with it, and it makes me sick to think about the outside influences that are influencing the way we manage our fish habitats throughout the state.”

Mike Wood spoke as a sponsor for “Stand for Salmon,” saying that the initiative is timely, as the state has so many large, hard-rock mining proposals. He noted Fish and Game is smaller as a department than it was when the pipeline was built.

“With the amount of development that is bearing down on the state, it would be to our advantage economically, since fish are such an economic force in this state, to implement some of these laws… At this point, it’s time to have some more robust standards to be sure we don’t trade one resource for another.”

The meeting drew representatives from various industries and on both sides of the initiative. Peter Caltagirone of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and Ukallaysaaq Okleasik of Sitnasauk both spoke against the initiative. Both were concerned that it could impede economic growth, with Ukallaysaaq specifically mentioning that the ballot initiative had not been communicated enough to Alaska Native tribes and corporations.

Other Nome residents spoke in favor of “Stand for Salmon” and voting “yes” on the initiative. Those in favor of the ballot think that it will give citizens a say in the projects happening in the community.

This meeting was one of several held throughout the state. Public comments will be received until 5pm Friday, November 2.

Image at top: silver (coho) salmon. Photo: Sam Beebe, shared via Flickr / Creative Commons.