Coastal ballot issue opposed by Outside, foreign interests

Laine Welch

Alaska has more coastline than all the other states combined, but unlike all the others, Alaska has no say in how our coasts are managed or developed.

If Outside and foreign corporations have their way, that's how it will remain.

Alaska has had a successful coastal zone management program in place since the 1970s, but the program expired last year when lawmakers and Gov. Sean Parnell couldn't agree on extending it. Despite constant criticism of "the feds" butting into Alaska's business, the state effectively surrendered authority to guide and control development of its coastline to the federal government.

That didn't sit well with the majority of Alaskans. More than 33,000 signed a petition to put the question of reinstating the coastal management program in front of voters this month. On Aug. 28, Alaskans will decide if we want to have a voice at the table.

That's brought out some big guns to defeat the effort. Opponents say the ballot initiative is poorly worded, would expand government bureaucracy and make coastal permitting more difficult. The opposition is mostly non-Alaska-based business interests, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Disclosures from April through July show that $776,000 has been spent to prevent the coastal management initiative from making it to the ballot. Of that, 70 percent came from Outside and foreign business interests.

Shell Oil of the Netherlands, for example, gave $150,000. Four Canadian-owned mining companies, including Barrick Gold, a major backer of the Chuitna coal project in Upper Cook Inlet, gave a total of $135,000. An Idaho-based mining company contributed $75,000. Donations by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association can be traced to its 15 member companies, 14 of which are based out of state. Those numbers are likely to jump when the next APOC report comes out on Aug. 21.

"We assumed all along big Outside money would oppose our local voices, but we didn't expect such a huge flood of non-Alaska funding," said Terzah Tippin Poe, co-director of the Alaska Sea Party, a grass-roots group formed to regain a coastal voice.

So far more than 200 Alaskans from across the state have donated a total of $64,000 to support a Vote Yes campaign. "Over 30,000 Alaskans signed the petition to get the initiative on the ballot, it has 280 co-sponsors, and is supported by the majority of Alaska's mayors and hundreds of Alaska organizations," Sea Party co-chair Bruce Botelho said.

Voting day is Aug. 28. Early in-person and absentee voting begins on Aug. 13. Learn more at


The push to keep genetically tweaked salmon off American dinner plates has stalled for now and isn't likely to get traction in Congress until next session. Before the August recess, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, pulled an opposition bill he had introduced when it appeared that the bill would fail to pass a Commerce committee by one vote.

"I want to stress that on this legislation we really worked hard to compromise with members and to make it very clear that the bill focused on genetically engineered fish," Begich said. "Consumer concerns are very widespread -- over 70 different groups have opposed this type of fish."

For more than 15 years, Massachusetts-based Aqua Bounty has been trying to get Food and Drug Administration approval to market its super salmon -- a fish genetically modified to grow three times faster than either wild or farmed salmon. Dubbed Frankenfish by critics, it would be the first genetically modified animal product OK'd for human consumption. Because the changeling process is listed under "veterinary procedures," no labels are required to alert consumers.

"It is not just an Alaska issue, it is a national issue regarding our fisheries," Begich told KDLG in Dillingham. "We have no interest in dealing with the other GM products in this country. We are talking about fish and creating a process that allows more review and ensuring consumers are protected. The FDA has now delayed almost two years, mainly because we have brought up complaint after complaint about the process they have used and the lack of consumer response by their agency."

"You wouldn't catch me serving that to my sons," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, "and it stuns me there has been this attitude of 'Don't worry, it's fine.' I am worried and I will do everything I can to make sure it doesn't get out on the market." She added that food safety is one area where she wants more involvement by the federal government.

Begich and others also point to concerns over disease and Frankenfish escaping and mixing with wild stocks. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, the Alaska Legislature and state fishing groups have come out strongly against genetically modified fish, as has the National Humane Society, among others.

Salmon watch

The statewide catch through Aug. 10 was 90 million fish toward a forecast of 132 million. The breakdown: 210,000 chinooks, 14.8 million chums, 1.1 million cohos, 39 million pinks and 34.6 million sockeyes. Catches by region and species may be found at

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact

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