The Senate Resources Committee will hear SB 97 next week, legislation that seeks to give the Department of Natural Resources the power to authorize commercial development on any state land regardless of its status - refuge or park or otherwise - and to put a fine point on it, the bill proposes to repeal the Recreational River statutes that protect six popular and anadromous Mat-Su rivers: The Little Susitna River, The Deshka River, The Talkeetna River, Lake Creek, Alexander Creek, and The Talachulitna River.
Some bills seem tailor-made to waste time, to no real genuine purpose, and this is one of them. The Senate Resources Committee's wise senators will do their solemn best to ask educated questions about this proposal. Still, the only reason to give this kind of bill any serious consideration is to pat the back of the sponsor, which in this instance is the Governor of the State of Alaska. And what does the Governor get from repealing protections from the popular salmon rivers that form the beating heart of the Mat-Su Valley? Who knows. It smacks of cold real estate speculation.
A great song by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats asks us to "Think of All the Time, Time, Time, Time, Time." Think of all the time, the human hours, the government money, the legislative time, volunteer time, and citizen time that led up to the passage of the Recreational Rivers statutes in 1988. Think of all the time that went into finalizing the Susitna Basin Recreational Rivers Management Plan in 1991. It is a waste of time for the Governor to scrap all of this thoughtful river protection for no real definable reason except potentially to see some new subdivisions built.
A similar (failed) effort last year by the Governor prompted this response from Mayor and Borough Manager of the Mat-Su Borough in a letter to Valley Legislators: "The removal of these recreational rivers and special purpose areas could have devastating effects on the fish and wildlife populations within these waterways." We have heard enough of the Cook Inlet Salmon Wars to know how important salmon are to the Mat-Su citizens, as they are to all Alaskans. Repealing protection for local rivers seems to undercut regional arguments about the protection of regional salmon stocks. Going backward on river protection would also present a new way to waste the time we have left in the face of rapid climate change to protect salmon.
Public Testimony is scheduled for SB 97 in Senate Resources on Wednesday, March 17 at 3:30 PM. Without a clear and compelling argument from the Dunleavy Administration - which they are not known for producing - this bill should be set aside so the committee can focus its precious time on revenue generation measures. (Hint: the price of oil is almost at $70 per barrel, and we are pretty much giving it away.)
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