HB 199 under discussion in House Fisheries

A bill before the House Fisheries Committee could supersede the need for putting a salmon habitat initiative on the statewide ballot later this year, if legislators in both houses pass it before the end of the current session and Gov. Bill Walker signs it into law.

Support for House Bill 199 was delivered Jan. 23 in the form of over 6,000 hand signed letters of support by Bristol Bay commercial harvester Melanie Brown of Juneau, who said another 2,000 digital letters brought that total support to some 8,000 voters registered in Alaska.

Brown works for Salmon State, a project whose goal is to protect habitat and promote policies to guarantee that Alaska remains the home of the world’s healthiest and most abundant populations of wild salmon.

House Bill 199, like the salmon habitat initiative, would introduce new requirements and a new process for permitting applications related to projects that would impact salmon streams. Under the Alaska constitution, passage of a bill similar to an initiative would void the initiative.

Opponents of both HB 199 and the initiative, including most of the Alaska Native regional corporations, are concerned about its potential threat to resource development projects, from timber to mining, including the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska.

HB 199 was introduced by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who told the standing-room-only crowd at the hearing that she encouraged “all stakeholders to engage in this process so that we can achieve a true balance between responsible development and safeguarding our cherished salmon resources that we all hold dear.”

Those attending the hearing included Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham.

Stutes said later that she is extremely hopeful of passage of the bill.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. “We are putting everything out on the table. We all have to come together and that’s the bottom line.

“We can come up with an absolutely acceptable bill. That is what I’m working for. Everybody has to win a little bit. I am willing to talk to people, to compromise with people,” she said.