Chilkat Indian Village Vice President Jones Hotch Jr. gives public testimony Monday while Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, listens. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Chilkat Indian Village Vice President Jones Hotch Jr. gives public testimony Monday while Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, listens. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Opponents say bill makes it harder to protect waters

Public testimony heard Monday.

Opponents of a bill that would create a state process for giving waters the highest level of protection under the federal Clean Water Act say the bill would effectively deny any Alaska waters such a designation.

About a dozen people spoke against a proposed bill during a Monday afternoon House Resources Committee meeting. They argued the bill, which would create a water advisory commission and legislative process for designating Outstanding National Resource Waters, would make it unnecessarily difficult to designate what are often called Tier 3 waters. That designation allows for only minor and temporary decreases in water quality.

“Requiring a Tier 3 water nomination go through a three-step political process rather than a science-based administrative process all but ensures there will never be a Tier 3 water designation in this state,” said Sarah Davidson during public testimony. Davidson is the Inside Passage Waters Program Manager for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. She was one of a handful of SEACC staff members who gave personal testimony during the meeting.

House Bill 138, which is sponsored by Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, would allow the public to nominate bodies of water and put the power of designating Tier 3 waters the hands of the Legislature, but only if nominated bodies of water received approval from a 7-person commission. There are currently no Tier 3 waters in Alaska but five bodies of water have been nominated. More public testimony for the bill will be heard Friday.

The commission would include the commissioners of the Alaska departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game as well as four designated seats to be filled by governor appointments, according to a presentation given during the meeting.

That includes a seat for a tribal entity or Native corporation, environmental or conservation on-governmental organization, a resource-development NGO and a representative of local governments.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, asked if the commission would be subject to legislative review.

[Read live coverage of the meeting here]

“The bill does not permit that,” Kopp said. “The reason for that is to try not to politicize the commission.”

Rasmussen said allowing the Legislature a say in the commission’s makeup could eliminate perceived politicization of the commission since it would provide a possible check on governor appointments.

Such a commission would review nominations from residents, and the nominations would need to include a description of the water, upstream and downstream boundaries, explanation of what makes it exceptional, a description of existing water quality and a cost-benefit analysis.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, asked if the nomination criteria might make it difficult for one person or even a small tribe to nominate a body of water.

“These are more policy determinations than science determinations,” Kopp said. “The intent is to not make the bar so high that it is prohibitive.”

Dan Cannon, Tongass Forest Program Manager for SEACC, said during public testimony that the process that would be established by the bill made it sound tough for an individual to nominate a body of water.

Chilkat Indian Village Vice President Jones Hotch Jr. said it would be difficult to attach such a value to resources contained in the Chilkat River.

[Opinion: Include Chilkate River in mining conversation]

“I cannot put a cost on how valuable salmon is to us,” Hotch said. “It has a value to us, I can say that much. We are against this bill.”

If the bill becomes law, and a nomination was approved by the commission, the governor would then be required to introduce a bill designating a water as an ONRW which would then go through the legislative process.

Some who gave testimony, including SEACC staff scientist Guy Archibald, said that makes the matter of environmental protections inherently political rather than based in science. Archibald specified he was only speaking for himself, not the organization.

“The idea that it would have to go through the Legislature and that would not be a political process, honestly does not pass the blush test,” said Guy Archibald. “If you are making a process easier for a corporation to pollute water and meanwhile setting a high bar for residents to protect water, that is in violation of the Alaska constitution that the resources be developed for the benefit of all Alaskans.”

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

Rep. Sara Hannan (left) and Rep. Andi Story, both Juneau Democrats, talk during a break in floor debate Sunday, May 12, at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau’s legislative delegation reflects on lots of small items with big impacts passed during session

Public radio for remote communities, merit scholarships, fishing loans among lower-profile successes

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his vision for Alaska’s energy future at the Connecting the Arctic conference held in Anchorage on Monday. Next to him is Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, invited to Anchorage to speak at this week’s Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy examining energy bills passed by Alaska Legislature

Expresses optimism about carbon storage bill, pondering next steps on royalty relief that failed.

(Michael Penn/ Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, May 19, 2024

For Sunday, May 19 Assault At 8:20 p.m. on Sunday, 32-year-old John… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, May 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Fay Herold, a delegate at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention, expresses concerns about a proposed change to the party’s platform on Saturday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Alaska Democrats gather in Juneau to make party plans for national convention in Chicago

Peltola, national party chairman among speakers; delegates get advice from protester at 1968 event.

A lamb-decorated headstone lays half hidden in a cemetery section in Douglas on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Shaky deals from past haunt efforts to preserve Douglas cemeteries today

As volunteers struggle to clear brush at historic sites, city leaders say they have limited options.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, May 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read