On Aug. 12, the Board of Fish met in teleconference to decide the location of the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in January 2005. Sen. Tom Wagoner had requested that the board consider Soldotna, since most of the proposals are from this area, and Soldotna had not hosted a meeting since 1999 and the majority of the meetings in the past 25 years have been held in Anchorage.
Most residents of this area cannot afford to travel to Anchorage for a 12-day meeting. Moreover, holding the meeting in Soldotna would bring thousands of dollars into the local community in January. Hotels and businesses would receive a boost, and it would be fair for the general public. After all, Anchorage residents and those in Palmer and Wasilla have enjoyed the opportunity to participate for little cost for all the other years.
Too, holding the meeting in Soldotna would bring the commercial organizations, Kenai River Sport Fishing Association, and the Kenai River Guide Association together. After all, these organizations are located in our town and continue to use our volunteer resources for events like the Kenai River Classic, wherein donations from local businesses are solicited and given without hesitation. The Kenai-Soldotna Advisory Committee to the BOF had voted to approve Sen. Wagoner's request. Ed Dersham, chair of the board, had indicated to me it looked pretty good for the meeting to be in Soldotna since costs were about the same.
As I walked into the teleconferenced board meeting, I was handed a packet of letters the board had received on this issue. To my surprise and dismay I noted that KRSA was recommending that the meeting be held in Anchorage.
Ricky Gease, executive director of KRSA, in an e-mail to the board dated Aug. 11, stated that security was an issue the board should consider in picking the location of the meeting, and he was recommending Anchorage instead of Soldotna.
Mr. Gease states, "At the 2000 meeting in Soldotna, members of the BOF, employees of ADF&G, and numerous members of the general public were threatened with acts of violence, some stretching to death threats ... the fact that the physical security of the public became an issue at this meeting shows that security was not adequately factored into the decision making process prior to the meeting ... . Several members of our organization who live outside Soldotna question whether or not their physical security can be guaranteed if 2005 meeting once again happens in Soldotna." Mr. Gease ends the correspondence with, "A last concern expressed by some has been the new rule in Alaska to allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon. What is the policy at the BOF meeting?"
Additionally, Bob Penney, founder of KRSA, signed a letter from the Cook Inlet Sportfishing Caucus, also dated Aug. 11, to ADF&G Commissioner Duffy stating that "A meeting in Anchorage provides an atmosphere that is more conducive to rational decision making." He signed that letter as a representative of Soldotna.
During the discussion, board member Andrews referenced concern for security in Soldotna as one reason he was voting against having the meeting here. Other board members discussed it. To his credit, Chair Dersham pointed out that the correspondence received from KRSA and CISC about security did not reflect accurately the meeting in Soldotna.
UCI Board meetings, wherever they're held, are always contentious. I have seen Anchorage and Valley residents get in heated discussions with board members and the department, and the Soldotna meeting was no different. The 14 days of the 1999 Soldotna meeting went extremely well. The community turned out a great welcome mat to the board, and the meeting was one of the most productive sessions I have attended. For 14 days, both state and private money flowed into this community at a time when businesses could use it. I fully agree with Mr. Dersham that the letters were not an accurate reflection of the situation.
For Mr. Gease and Mr. Penney to refer to Soldotna as a security risk, as lacking an atmosphere conducive to rationality, to imply that area residents might be gun-toting, uncivil citizens, and that they fear for the safety of those attending the meeting is just plain insulting to our town.
I would hope a public apology would be forthcoming from KRSA and CISC for their slander of Soldotna.
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