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A fish board meeting on the peninsula is long overdue

Posted: August 28, 2014 - 2:48pm

A measure going before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, as well as city councils around the peninsula, encourages to Alaska Board of Fisheries to meet in the Kenai-Soldotna area when it next considers Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues in 2017.

We second that motion. It’s been 15 years since the full fish board deliberated Kenai Peninsula issues on the Kenai Peninsula, and a return to this community is long overdue.

“Holding the meeting on the Kenai Peninsula would show local residents, businesses and communities that the Board of Fisheries listens, cares about and understands the local impacts of its decisions,” Joint Resolution No. 1 reads.

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch notes that 80 percent of the proposals taken up by the fish board during an Upper Cook Inlet meeting deal with Kenai Peninsula issues.

“Peninsula residents are involved from every facet whether they are sport fishermen, setnetters or drifters,” Koch told the Clarion in a recent interview.

But with the meetings in Anchorage over the past 15 years, the fish board’s proceedings have become less and less accessible to the people directly impacted by board decisions.

The Upper Cook Inlet meetings, which take place once every three years, are typically two-week affairs. While many peninsula residents are able to take a long weekend to attend a public testimony session, the expense and time required makes it difficult for most to stay to the bitter end.

Glenn Haight, executive director for the board, said that with people coming from the Mat-Su region, Anchorage was seen as a middle ground. While we appreciate the sentiment, the argument just doesn’t hold water. People interested in participating in the process can commute from the Valley in an hour or less; that option doesn’t exist for central Kenai Peninsula residents.

And being present for the whole meeting does make a difference. At the conclusion of this year’s meeting in Anchorage, board chairman Karl Johnstone told the Clarion that people who submitted proposals but were not present at the meeting to defend or explain themselves could be less effective than those who were present.

“I don’t know why they’re not here to support their proposals, there’s a lot of legitimate reasons I’m sure. If they’re not here then we can’t hear them,” Johnstone said.

The Kenai-Soldotna area meets all the criteria necessary to host a board meeting. There are multiple venues that fit the bill. There’s commercial airline and road system access. There’s clean, comfortable lodging and plenty of dining options. There’s adequate Internet access.

More importantly, the people with a direct interest in the vast majority of the proposals that will be considered are here, too.

The only thing missing is the board.

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