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Legislature should favorably consider SB 152 for Bristol Bay region

Posted: February 24, 2012 - 9:55am

Anyone who has lived on the Peninsula long enough will tell you that decisions regarding our fisheries are of the utmost importance to our livelihoods today and in the long term.

Decisions and proposals that might affect the health of our lakes, rivers, streams, watersheds and ocean waters often go hand-in-hand with the health of our salmon, halibut and other fisheries.

Because those issues are so important to us, we often like to keep an ear to the ground in regard to other proposals and water activity around the state. Along those lines, we would like to direct attention to SB 152 introduced by Alaska State Sen. Hollis French.

French, a Democrat from Anchorage, is proposing the Legislature be more engaged in development issues in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve through his bill.

Specifically, French's bill would require the Legislature to enact a law that includes a finding that any proposed large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation constitutes no danger to the fishery within the Bristol Bay reserve.

"This would have to be completed before the issuance of an authorization, license, permit or approval of a plan of operation that could affect water in or flowing into or over the reserve," French wrote in a sponsor statement.

According to the statement, the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve was created in 1972 with a provision put in place to protect the reserve from oil or gas exploration or development on state owned or controlled land until the Legislature by "appropriate resolution" finds such activities will not "constitute danger to the fishery."

The bill would treat large-scale metallic sulfide mining, defined as those affecting 640 or more acres of land with the goal of extracting gold and copper from a sulfide bearing rock, in the same way.

We support SB 152 because the Alaska Legislature needs to be involved in any issue that might prove harmful to the Bristol Bay fishery, which in 2011 produced a harvest of 21.9 million fish with a commercial value of $137.7 million, according to preliminary numbers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The bill wouldn't prohibit mining in the Bristol Bay reserve, but would ensure that any large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation must be found to pose no danger to the area's renewable resources by the Legislature.

The passage of SB 152 would make our Legislature pay extra attention to how that activity would affect the area. It would place an added level of accountability and responsibility on how decisions in the Bristol Bay region are made, as well.

It would also hopefully ensure state departments doing the ground work -- Department of Natural Resources, Department of Fish and Game and others -- have the best, newest and most accurate information, resources and staff at their disposal to make conclusions of such magnitude.

In short: Lawmakers should favorably consider SB 152, realize the importance of decisions made in the Bristol Bay region and that anything less than a thorough review of these large-scale decisions would not be wise for Alaska's future.

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