Legislation under consideration by the Alaska House Fisheries Committee could keep a salmon habitat initiative off the ballot in an upcoming statewide election, and committee chair Louise Stutes says she’s extremely hopeful this will happen.
“We are putting everything out on the table,” said Stutes, a Republican from Kodiak, Alaska, after the committee’s first hearing January 23. “We all have to come together and that’s the bottom line,”
House Bill 199, as well as the proposed salmon habitat initiative, would update a 60-year-old law regulating permitting for any project that would impact salmon streams, including the proposed copper, gold and molybdenum Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska and Donlin gold mine some 280 miles northwest of Anchorage.
“I’m willing to talk to people, to compromise with people,” Stutes said. “Everybody has to win a little bit.”
Initiative backers gathered over 49,000 signatures of registered voters, far more than needed to put the initiative on the statewide ballot, and on January 23 delivered to Stutes’ committee over 6,000 hand-signed letters supporting HB 199, adding to the already delivered 2,000 letters.
Melanie Brown, of Juneau, a Bristol Bay harvester who works with Salmon State, an organization focused on protecting salmon habitat said Salmon State supports both the initiative and HB 199. The difference is that if HB 199 is approved by the House and Senate before the end of the current session and signed into law by Gov. Bill Walker then the initiative would be void. Brown says the bill has a great chance of getting through the legislature with the initiative hanging out there, because "it creates the will to come and sit down to the table.”