Fairbanks Chamber Stands for Alaska

By Marisa Sharrah

The Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce represents our members by advocating for the best possible business environment; promoting economic strength and growth for Interior Alaska; and developing the resources and networks enterprising people use to share knowledge.

Our job also requires that we wave a red flag when policies or ideas threaten economic growth and opportunities in our community. That is why the Fairbanks chamber officially has joined the Stand for Alaska coalition — the group organized to oppose the so-called “Stand for Salmon” initiative. Why is the Fairbanks chamber — a group that focuses on promoting a positive business climate — getting involved in something that sounds like a fish habitat issue? If passed, this defective initiative undeniably would hurt our state and local economies.

When you dig into the ballot measure’s complex and convoluted language, it becomes apparent that the real outcome is either a slowing or a full-stop of community development projects, transportation infrastructure projects and resource development right here in Interior Alaska and across Alaska. For the Fairbanks chamber, it was an easy decision for us to oppose this measure. Road construction projects would be challenged if this ballot measure passes.

Why? Because the ballot measure directs the state to treat every river, stream, rivulet and groundwater as fish-bearing until proven otherwise. The reality is that proving otherwise requires every project — from large scale mines to a typical culvert — to pay for an expensive and time intensive scientific study. In Fairbanks, that means the Chena Flood Control project could be jeopardized, a critical project for our city. We need quality roads in the Interior to stay connected to the rest of the state and to keep commerce moving. This ballot measure will slow and/or stop these construction projects.

We are proud to join Doyon Ltd., one of Fairbanks’ largest employers and the state’s largest private landowner, in opposing this measure. Doyon has been very active in trying to develop oil and natural gas in Nenana, a prospect that will boost our economy and provide lower-cost energy to the region. Doyon understands that this measure could kill those prospects, which would be devastating on so many levels.

It’s not just local projects that will be stopped. Large-scale state projects important to Alaska’s future and job creation also would be at risk. Keith Meyer, president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, said recently that passage of this ballot measure makes the Alaska LNG project “virtually impossible to permit.” That’s right. A huge project that will bring natural gas to new areas of our state and thousands of jobs will be dead on arrival if this measure passes.

This ballot measure is also unnecessary. Recently, an official from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told the Fairbanks chamber that the “current (permitting) system is not broken,” and that they are, in fact, proud of Alaska’s reputation across the country for being one of the most robust and thorough permitters in the United States.

Commissioner Marc Luiken, of the Alaska Department of Transportation, told our members that Alaska is one of only a handful of states in which the U.S. DOT allows the state to take the lead on environmental permitting of federally funded transportation projects, because our state-level laws and regulations either meet or exceed federal requirements.

The proposed ballot measure throws out a vetted, science-based permitting system that has successfully struck a balance of protecting and developing our resources, to solve an undefined problem. It is like using a flamethrower to kill a mosquito, and the consequences far outweigh any benefit.

Our mission at the Fairbanks chamber is making Interior Alaska a great place to do business. Despite the challenges associated with the ongoing recession, we feel like we’ve begun to pull out of the slump. Exciting resource development projects are on the horizon, including the Alaska gasline project, and companies are starting to invest and hire again. Now is not the time to implement a defective, deceptive, business-hostile ballot initiative that will hurt our communities, our economy and Alaska jobs. I encourage Alaska individuals and business leaders to add your names to the Stand for Alaska coalition and learn more at standforalaska.com.

Marisa Sharrah is the CEO and president of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

Lizzie Rosen