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Environment

Business leaders form group to oppose salmon protection ballot initiative

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: October 20, 2017
  • Published October 19, 2017

The Stand for Salmon group, which seeks to strengthen Alaska's fish habitat protection laws through a ballot initiative, has spawned an opponent: Stand for Alaska.

The new group was launched by several business leaders on Wednesday to counter what they describe as "the false narrative that current laws and regulations fail to adequately protect salmon."

Marleanna Hall, executive director of the Resource Development Council, filed the group's registration paperwork, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Hall said Thursday that the new group, Stand for Alaska, was created to educate people about how the proposed initiative would affect the development of Alaska's natural resources if it is certified and approved by voters next year.

Along with Hall, the new group's co-chairs are Aaron Schutt, president of Doyon (a regional Native corporation and the state's largest private landowner), and Joey Merrick, business manager at Alaska Laborers Local 341. Curtis Thayer, president of the Alaska Chamber, is treasurer.

The measure could lead to a "job-killing, community-damaging, regulatory nightmare," stopping or hurting projects while likely doing nothing to improve fish protections, Stand for Alaska said. It would "make it much more difficult, if not impossible," to build runways, roads and other projects, the group said.

Mike Wood, chairman of Stand for Salmon, called those claims "ridiculous."

"All it means is if development occurs, you won't impact the spawning and return of those salmon," he said Thursday.

The controversial Pebble copper and gold prospect in Bristol Bay could still be developed, but at the "highest standards" to protect the valuable wild salmon fishery there, he said.

"It is not created to stop projects," he said of the initiative. But he said it could "interfere" with the development of some projects that are bad ideas.

The ANCSA Regional Association, representing 12 Alaska Native regional corporations, voted unanimously to oppose the measure in July, according to an op-ed by Sophie Minich, president of CIRI, and Rex Rock Sr., president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

The ANCSA association does not speak for all Alaska Natives, said Wood.

The Stand for Salmon ballot group, which registered with APOC in June, includes fishing, tribal and environmental interests.

Alaska Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner allowed Stand for Salmon to move ahead with its initiative on Oct. 9. Rindner overruled Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott's decision rejecting it. Rindner found that the ban on appropriating public assets by initiative, such as water to protect salmon, "does not … prohibit initiatives that regulate public assets."

The state is considering whether to appeal, said Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills.

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