Testimony on controversial natural resources permitting bill closes
JUNEAU – After a four-and-a-half-hour hearing Friday, the Senate Resources Committee is done taking public testimony on HB 77, a bill designed to streamline the permitting process for development on state lands.
One hundred twenty people testified on Friday — another 47 on Wednesday.
The bill passed the House last year, but was stalled in a Senate committee until this session where it has since been rewritten.
Some like Tom Tilden, a longtime commercial fisherman and tribal leader, came all the way to Juneau from Dillingham to testify on Wednesday, but the committee ran out of time to hear the dozens of people waiting to weigh in at legislative information offices across the state.
Tom Tilden stayed over until Friday to voice his opposition to the bill and its revisions.
“In House Bill 77, they gave you and the public a burned cake. With the amendments, they covered the burned cake with frosting,” Tilden said. “The best action you can take now is just throw this piece of legislation in the trash can.”
The voices against HB 77 came from all over the state. Nome. Bethel. Sitka. Ketchikan.
But some like Vince O’Shea, vice president for the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, said he was satisfied with the protections offered in HB 77, as well as expanded powers to the Department of Natural Resources commissioner to expedite permitting.
“The bill provides the tools to the commissioner of DNR to sustainably manage resources while allowing for an efficient regulatory process,” O’Shea said.
Committee chairwoman Cathy Giessel kept strict time — only two minutes allowed per person. At least two-thirds of those who testified were opposed to HB 77.
At the Anchorage LIO, Lisa Wade of Palmer expressed frustration.
“The numbers are growing daily, of not just individuals, but entire communities who opposed House Bill 77,” Wade said. Alaska voters are screaming out for you to hear them, but their screams appear to be falling on deaf ears.”
With such an outpouring of opinion, it’s hard for lawmakers not to feel numb, if not overwhelmed.
After the hearing, Giessel held up a four-inch stack of messages and said she was sure she had another 100 emails waiting.
Sen. Peter Micciche of Soldotna spent several months holding hearings in his district and working on revisions.
He believes much of the opposition doesn’t realize that there have been changes — but said it’s important to remember that much of the bill simply codifies existing practices.
“It’s a 25-page bill,” Micciche said. “What isn’t previous code is previous practice, in many cases a practice since statehood. ”
“A lot of the codes were unwritten or haphazard. Now we have a baseline statute, as opposed to unwritten practices,” said Micciche, who believes the statute will become a living document, changing over time to reflect new information and the best practices.
“Always the priority should be healthy fish and streams first — responsible development, second,” Micciche said. “We need the jobs, and we need to remember the reason we live here.”
The Senate Resources Committee will reconvene Monday with more amendments to HB 77 expected. The measure will then be voted on. Its next stop is the Senate Rules Committee.
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