Hundreds of people throughout the state have come out in opposition to House Bill 77, known also as the Silencing Alaskans Act.
The Sitka community joined in opposition to HB 77 this past Thursday as well. Around fifty people showed up to a meeting scheduled with Department of Natural Resources Representative Wyn Menefee to get a better understanding of the bill. Mr. Menefee was unable to attend due to snow but the meeting still continued.
Linda Behnken, Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, helped frame the bill and answered questions posed.
"Is there anything in this bill that you like?" , moderator Eric Jordan read off a notecard given by a community member.
"If there are things that I like in this bill, I couldn't point them out to you" said Behnken." I do understand that DNR has interest in facilitating the permitting process so that there could be quicker decisions but I think they've gone way beyond that with this bill and that's the message they need to hear from the people."
That's the message that was heard repeatedly at Thursday's public discussion through the fourteen people that testified against the bill.
"Over 30 tribes have expressed opposition to HB 77 and Sitka Tribe is one of them," said Michael Baines, Tribal Chairman of Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
"This bill attacks the basic constitutional guarantees of fish and wildlife protection. The public holds these resources in common yet [HB 77] gives priority to extractive interests that damage them," said Matt Donohoe, board member of the Alaska Troller's Association.
"I think a good example of things that happened when we didn't have any kind of say about stuff was what the water used to look like when the pulp mill was operating", said Kim Elliot, Alaska Department of Fishing & Game Advisory Council member. "We really have to think about what our future would look like if we didn't have any rights to take care of the water upstream from our piece of property wherever that might be. People really deserve the right to question what the government is doing."
Sitkans still want DNR to come to town and answer questions on HB 77, but this time it will be when we see the new amendments proposed on the bill. Right now behind closed doors, the Senate Rules Committee is proposing changes to the bill because of the hundreds of people that have outspoken against it. This reminds us that public participation IS in fact key to the way we manage our shared natural resources, and our rights as Alaskans.
For more information on House Bill 77, go to www.standforsalmon.org and join us in writing Governor Sean Parnell to let him know of your opposition to HB 77 and to the giveaway of your rights as an Alaskan.
Governor Sean Parnell
Alaska State Capitol Building
PO BOX 110001
Juneau, AK 99811-0001