Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Don't "Stand for Salmon"

 

September 1, 2018



This column has always had a healthy distrust of environmental groups claiming to be working toward the same goal as the commercial fishing industry. Our cynicism is often rewarded once the dust settles.

Alaska Ballot Measure 1, Salmon Habitat Protections and Permits Initiative, also known as the “Stand for Salmon” initiative, is allegedly aimed at protecting anadromous fish and their habitats from developments that might threaten the health of streams and rivers.

The initiative has some issues, however, either by mistake or design, that makes it a poor choice for those who depend on fish in Alaska for their livelihood.

The initiative would amend the Anadromous Fish Act, which is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADF&G) permitting statute.

First, currently the jurisdiction of ADF&G applies to all anadromous waters. The initiative would limit the jurisdiction of ADF&G to “naturally occurring” water bodies but does not define the term. Water bodies that are channelized, diverted, dammed, riprapped or polluted could arguably be not naturally occurring.

Second, the initiative would make most prosecutions for criminal violations of the Act harder to prosecute by changing the standard for criminal intent that the State has to prove from ordinary “civil negligence” to “criminal negligence,” which is harder to prove.

Finally, the initiative would exempt tribally-owned businesses from performance bonds. Such bonds guarantee that a project, for example, involving construction of a tailing dam or water treatment plant, is completed to specification. A tribe that supports Pebble could form a tribally-owned mining company. The Pebble Limited Partnership could contract with this tribe to operate the mine, and it would then be exempt from performance bonds. That leaves the public holding the bag if the dam or plant fails and the operating company goes belly-up.

The initiative does contain tougher standards than currently exist in the Anadromous Fish statute or regulation, but the Court is apt to strike down all or most of the tougher standards. These standards would be considered as allocating resources by initiative, which is a violation of the Alaska Constitution.

What’s left if these standards are struck down is essentially a gift to any company interested in resource extraction in Alaska.

A major objection to Pebble Mine has been concern over the tailings facilities, which have been known to fail, with catastrophic results. One need look no further than Canada’s Mount Polley mine disaster in 2014.

Pebble mine’s plans call for pyritic tailings to be moved to a tailing storage facility after the mine’s closure. The current plan would develop the western part of the deposit, called Pebble West. Pebble East underlies partly the anadromous portion of Upper Talarik Creek and would be mined by block caving, an underground technique that results in subsidence, which could probably form a lake on the surface. That lake would not be “naturally occurring” even though it would be where the anadromous water had been. So, it, too, could be used to discharge wastes without an ADF&G permit.

The initiative creates an end-run about ADF&G’s permitting authority by eliminating that authority once the water is no longer naturally occurring.

We urge our readers who vote in Alaska to oppose the Stand for Salmon initiative.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: editor@fishermensnews.com

 
 

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