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House Bill 77 would take away Alaskans’ constitutional rights

Posted: December 4, 2013 - 5:38pm

I wanted to bounce a few ideas off of you all regarding House Bill 77. Seems to me it is another attempt by the wrecking crew down there in Juneau to take away some of our 1959 Alaska state constitutional rights. Article 8 of the Alaska Constitution states that all citizens are guaranteed fish and water rights. 

Our state government has been required to notify us via a public process of potential resource development effects to water and fish resource rights and to let us respond in a public forum to those plans before they are implemented. These threats can take the form of mining, hydro dams, oil drilling etc. and by allowing us to weigh in we could meet the people behind these development schemes and look them in the eye and ask them face to face about those plans and how they would impact our fish and water resources. 

If HB 77 passes this would no longer be true. If it passes only the state of Alaska will decide what water would be given to whom and for how long. No public comment would be allowed. This would allow the state to grant resource use permits to large mining and development corporations with no private sector input. It would remove us as citizens just a little bit more from the process of deciding development issues that can affect us all for many years or generations to come. 

We have already lost the Habitat Division from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game during the Frank Murkowski administration along with specific regulations that would have prevented the Pebble mine from ever having been seriously considered. (Granted, the Palin administration reinstated the Habitat Division but the loss of staff and expertise had already been done.) 

During this time laws were changed which now require any citizen that brings a suit against the state for mismanagement of the public resources, and loses, to pay all court costs if they lose. This is what happened to Jay Hammond’s wife Bella and Vic Fisher, when they sued the state over the core drilling done in the Pebble mine area to define the ore body, but which dumped drilling mud wastes and other pollutants in a wide area in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak river drainages. They were told they would have to reimburse the state for more than a million dollars to compensate the state for the time spent on this suit. 

Alaska is one of the few states in the country which requires citizens that sue the state to pay all costs if they lose. This seriously affects the ability of private citizens to challenge an unwise decision by the state, by threatening them with large money paybacks which the average citizen cannot afford. It removes our voice from participating in a democratic process thru fear of potential bankruptcy. 

It’s kind of like having multiple set triggers on an old rifle. You do away with state agencies that do permitting on projects that affect the public’s resources, and a set trigger is pulled.

Then you remove public comment or habitat protection regulations and the public loses more of its fish and water resource rights. As you add more and more of these restrictions to public participation in resource matters, more and more set triggers are pulled until eventually the gun goes off. 

When it does you find that you have lost far more of your rights than you realized with all the small incremental losses suffered along the way. Eventually after you have lost coastal zone management, habitat division, regulations that protect salmon spawning waters, public notification and comment on development, you wake up one morning a realize that the public no longer has any control or say in what happens with the resources owned by the people of this state. 

Our rights are slowly given away to state bureaucrats and big business. 

So do me a favor will you? Ask one of your elected representatives when you see them, if they supported and voted for this HB77 to get it where it is today. It is poised in Juneau to pass into law in January when the Legislature meets. Find out why they supported it and how they thought they were serving you, the public by doing so.

You might be surprised by the answer. 

Rick Gustin lives in Fritz Creek. 

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