Don’t Stand for Misleading and Harmful Ballot Measures

By Dave Marquez

At first, Ballot Measure 1 sounds like a great idea, and its backers probably hope you give it nothing more than a passing glance.

Because when you compare what Ballot Measure 1—sometimes called Stand for Salmon—claims to do with what it actually does*, you’ll understand why this proposal is reckless and harmful to Alaska. While its intentions may be admirable, its actual effects will be costly and harmful to Alaskans and to our communities.

To understand the intent behind this measure, look no further than its name: Stand for Salmon. Who among us wouldn’t support such a feel-good concept? But, as voters, we have a responsibility to understand the matters we’re being asked to vote on; I appreciate the opportunity to explain why the public policies behind the feel-good name are so destructive.

Ballot Measure 1 will make it more time consuming, costly, and in some cases impossible to acquire and renew the many permits needed to build and operate essential facilities that many Alaskans take for granted. Our airports, water treatment facilities, roads, bridges, docks, hydroelectric facilities, and many more already require extensive permitting from state and federal authorities. Nearly all of these would be negatively impacted and in some cases required to suspend operations if this ballot measure becomes law.

Why? Because if this initiative passes, it will impact any permit or permit renewal near fresh water on the assumption that all waters in Alaska are anadromous fish habitat. And the ballot measure goes well beyond major bodies of water to include any “naturally occurring permanent or intermittent seasonal water body, and the bed beneath, including all sloughs, backwaters, portions of the floodplain covered by the mean annual flood, and adjacent riparian areas, that contribute, directly or indirectly, to the spawning, rearing, migration, or overwintering of anadromous fish.” (http://www.elections.alaska.gov/petitions/17FSH2/17FHS2%20Bill.pdf)

And if you think this measure is limited to just salmon, take a closer look. The list of “anadromous fish” in Alaska includes more than twenty types of fish, such as char, whitefish, sturgeon, salmon, trout, smelt, and others. (https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/SARR/AWC/index.cfm?ADFG=defs.codes)

These new rules are as unnecessary as they are burdensome because we already have comprehensive, tough regulations on the books protecting our environment, fish, and wildlife. The Department of Fish and Game already documents water bodies that are known to support fish, publishes a catalogue, and clearly spells out the rules:

“Water bodies must be documented as supporting some life function of an anadromous fish species (salmon, trout, char, whitefish, sturgeon, etc.). Anadromous fish must have been seen or collected and identified by a qualified observer. Most nominations come from Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologists. Others are received from private individuals, companies, and biologists from other state and federal agencies.” (https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/sf/SARR/AWC/)

Not only will Ballot Measure 1 make it harder to renew permits for existing operations and facilities, it will make it virtually impossible to construct many new projects that benefit Alaskans, our economy, and local communities.

Just last month, the Alaska Legislature convened a hearing of state officials to examine the costs and impacts of Ballot Measure 1. Among the findings:

  • The Department of Fish and Game representative testified that “there is a significant impact from a cost perspective. Our estimate is about $1.3 million a year annually for at least five years.” And that’s just for staff and staff support amenities.
     
  • The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said Stand for Salmon will “increase the delivery time of our projects” and “there’s some concern that this may trump some…safety concerns.”
     
  • The Department of Natural Resources stated Ballot Measure 1 will “make it nearly impossible to permit the Alaska LNG project.”

 

While the content of this measure is a serious problem, its timing could not be worse. Right now Alaska is in the middle of a recession, with the highest unemployment rate in the nation (https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm). We’ve lost more than 10,000 jobs in the last few years, and every lost job drives up costs to the state for social services.

Alaska came in dead last in a recent ranking of each state’s economies by U.S. News & World Report. And U.S. News and 24/7 Wall Street both list Alaska at 50 out of 50 for crime and public safety. Moody’s, S&P, and Fitch Ratings, the three major ratings agencies, have downgraded Alaska’s credit, driving up our borrowing costs and making our bonds less competitive.

Sadly, in addition to the negative impacts to local communities, individual Alaskans, and our economy, the ballot measure won’t do anything to increase salmon runs. Fish populations vary naturally year to year, typically due to offshore causes. Biologists have identified a number of trends, none of them relating to freshwater habitat, including short- and long-term ocean temperature changes, natural population cycles, and competition for food out in the ocean.

What state biologists have found is that Alaska’s onshore freshwater fish habitat is doing just fine. “Freshwater systems are healthy, producing plenty of smolt and fry going out. It’s just that something’s going on in the ocean that we can’t control,” according to a recent Alaska Public Media news story. (https://www.alaskapublic.org/2018/07/03/yakutat-sockeye-fishery-blindsided-by-historic-low-return/)

There’s no question that our fish and wildlife are some of the things that make Alaska special. Alaska needs tough policies that protect our environment, fish, and wildlife today and far into the future. And that’s why Alaskans are proud to have one of the most robust and comprehensive permitting systems in the world, as well as world-class fisheries management.

Governor Bill Walker, Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, and gubernatorial candidates Mike Dunleavy and Mead Treadwell all oppose Ballot Measure 1. When an issue unites Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, it speaks volumes about how wrong-headed and dangerous it is for Alaska. Let’s all join together to protect Alaska—oppose misleading and harmful Ballot Measure 1.

Dave Marquez is a former Alaska Attorney General; former chief operating officer of an Alaska Native Corporation; former executive with ARCO Alaska; and former chairman of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce.  He lives in Juneau.

Lizzie Rosen