Kenai River group opposes permitting shift

Posted: Monday, February 24, 2003

KENAI (AP) -- The group that advises the state on issues affecting the Kenai River has taken a stand against the governor's plan to move permitting responsibilities from the Department of Fish and Game to the Department of Natural Resources.

The Kenai River Special Management Advisory Board unanimously passed a resolution opposing Gov. Franks Murkowski's executive order.

Murkowski has said the move will streamline permitting processes. Board members said the opposite may happen.

''The honest-to-God truth is it will slow the permit process down,'' said Lance Trasky.

The governor proposes shifting permitting responsibilities -- often a necessary step in some road and construction projects that cross streams -- to the DNR.

The plan would effectively give the more industry-friendly DNR final say in issuing permits. It's a significant change since the current process can put departments at odds when reviewing proposals.

Trasky said the transfer may affect roughly 85 positions within Fish and Game. Of those, Trasky said, less than half will be moved to DNR, while the others will likely lose their jobs. Because fewer people will have more responsibilities, permitting processes could take longer, he said.

The governor's order is to take effect April 15. The Legislature can override the order.

Board members said Fish and Game personnel are best suited to keep tabs on critical habitat issues.

''Everyone says it won't be any different at DNR, but I think that it will be,'' Trasky said.

Other board members said the Habitat Division has been an effective, efficient mechanism that ensures basic habitat protections are in place.

''The Habitat Division has been the single most effective agency,'' board member Robin West said. ''I think it's a no-brainer.''

Board member Chris Degernes, who works within DNR as the Kenai area State Parks superintendent, said the current system is better because it allows both agencies to have a say in what happens to the Kenai River.

''I think if we vote (to oppose the order), we're voting for what's good for the river,'' Degernes said. ''We all know we stand better on two legs than one. ... The Kenai River would be better standing on two legs.''

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