Micciche tells Homer he's fighting for research reserve funding

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, delivered some promising news regarding funding for the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve to a standing-room crowd last Friday at the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall.

“I think we’ll get that funding back,” he said. “I’m going to shoot for getting it all back and supporting it for another year while we get another agency partner.”

Earlier this month, the House Subcommittee on Fish and Game cut $175,000 in state general funds for the research reserve, now managed under the Sport Fish Division, Department of Fish and Game. That amount is the 30-percent match the state must meet to get 70-percent funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under a memorandum of understanding. If the state doesn’t meet that match, major funding goes away, and the research reserve would close or be severely cut back.

The House subcommittee asked for $1 million in general fund cuts from Fish and Game, and it responded with the $175,000 KBRR funding cut. In January, Sport Fish Division officials had said it would be working on finding another state agency to manage the research reserve. 

In his budget, Gov. Sean Parnell supported funding the research reserve for next fiscal year.

Micciche said in making the cuts, legislators had not been told by Fish and Game the importance of the $175,000 in the federal match.

Micciche met with research reserve employees last Friday. He also requested supporting information from KBRR Community Council Chair George Matz. Citing that information, Micciche said he was surprised to learn that the research reserve’s educational programs served 3,500 students, many of them from Anchorage schools.

“Had I known that Anchorage kids come down, which I do now, I could have gone to those senators,” Micciche said.

Since 2013, under redistricting, Micciche has represented Senate District O, which includes Homer and the lower Kenai Peninsula. He was elected to District O in 2012. Under a court-ordered change in redistricting, Homer has been moved out of Micciche’s district and will go back to being represented by whoever is elected to the seat currently held by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, District P.

Micciche also updated Homer citizens on House Bill 77, a controversial land permitting bill introduced by Parnell and passed by the House in the last session but stalled in the Senate. HB 77 is part of a multi-year effort to make the state’s permitting process more efficient. The 13-page bill changes the process of how permits can be issued for land use and who can apply for water reservations on state water bodies, no longer allowing individuals to apply for water reservations. General permits would be allowed for activities to be authorized in advance and not on a case-by-case basis.

It also limits who can appeal permits, changing the standard from someone who is “aggrieved” to “substantially and adversely affected.” It also would limit appeals to someone who had “meaningfully participated” in the permitting process.

Micciche held hearings in Homer and Soldotna last December, and got overwhelming opposition to the bill from people from all political spectrums. 

“I think the awareness around the state had a couple of senators drop out in support,” Micciche said about HB 77. 

There are amendments to the bill that would make it easier for him to support, Micciche said last Friday. The revised bill was released Monday. Micciche said a subtle word fix made the bill more appealing — changing “significant and irreparable harm” to “significant or irreparable harm.” That would be the new standard under which a citizen could file an appeal against a permit and makes it easier for Alaskans to have standing.

Micciche said another section would restore the rights of Alaskans to apply for water reservations in streams, adding “a person” and “federally recognized tribe” to the bill. He also said he would add an amendment requiring the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to identify 12 king salmon rivers to see which already had water reservations. That didn’t make it in the revised bill, but Micciche said he would try to add it.

“Is it perfect? I don’t believe it is,” Micciche said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s moved significantly in the right direction to meet the concerns of Alaskans. I’ll continue to work to improve the bill.”

The revised bill didn’t please some critics. In a press release, the Alaska Democratic Party said the new version still is a “radical government power grab” and curtails  “Alaskans’ ability to have a voice in our resource development.”

Cook Inletkeeper said the revised bill still transfers “vast new powers to DNR to issue general permits,” makes it more difficult to challenge decisions and guts laws which allow Alaskans to reserve water in streams.

The meeting also touched on a wide variety of topics from a proposed LNG pipeline ending at Nikiski to educational funding.

As he did at a Soldotna constituent meeting, Micciche joked about what he would do if he was in the governor's seat. In response to a question from contractor Dave Stutzer about a Parnell speech suggesting high school credit be given for students who work outside of school, Micciche said, “Someday I can’t wait until I’m governor and I can give those speeches” — a comment that got everyone laughing. 

In Soldotna, when asked why nominees for things like the Board of Fish come from the governor and not from biologists who understand fishery issues, Micciche was quoted in the Peninsula Clarion as saying, “When I’m governor, by golly, I will take care of it.”

Micciche said he had been proud to represent Homer and has ties to the community. A commercial drift fishermen, he keeps a boat and enjoys visiting here, he said.

“I built some nice relationships,” Micciche said of Homer. “What I like about Homer is you’re not quiet about how you feel about things. It forces me to explain how I feel about votes and be on my game.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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