Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Begich on Friday said he is backing a hotly debated ballot initiative designed to update fish habitat laws.
“If there are megaprojects occurring, you’ll have a chance to comment and if the public believe there’s a problem, you have a chance to appeal it,” Begich said in an interview. “It engages the public in the outcome of a large project, which I think is fair. It protects our fisheries which are also a critical part of our long-term economic health of the state.”
Supporters and opponents of the initiative known as Ballot Measure 1 disagree on what this measure means for statewide resource development.
Industry officials say the proposed permitting system could halt many projects, but backers say the 60-year-old law is out dated and lacks responsible permitting for large-scale projects.
In recent hearings, Gov. Bill Walker’s administration has said the changes could cost millions in regulatory changes and delay major project proposals.

Republican candidate Mike Dunleavy in a prepared statement re-iterated his longstanding stance against the initiative.
“Ballot Measure 1 threatens responsible resource development in the state of Alaska, a state whose very existence is predicated on its ability to development its resources," Dunleavy said. "Ballot Measure 1 goes further than that: It jeopardizes infrastructure in communities across the state, including rural Alaska, affecting everything from runways and wastewater treatment to road construction.

Last month, the Alaska Supreme Court addressed whether the initiative was constitutional and issued its opinion.
The five-justice court allowed parts of the initiative to stand, where they don’t conflict with the state constitution in removing regulatory powers it allocates to state officials.

Also, on Friday, the state began public hearings on the initiative. State law requires ballot initiatives get at least two hearings in each of Alaska’s four judicial district. The first hearing was held in Juneau.

Future hearings will be held in communities ranging from Nome and Kotzebue to Anchorage and Fairbanks to Dillingham and Bethel. The last hearing will be a statewide teleconference session on Oct. 13.

Walker’s campaign office addressed Begich’s stance in the context of statutory and constitutional obligations.

"As Governor and Lt. Governor, our job is to make sure that initiatives are constitutional and that Alaskans have opportunities to provide their input,” he said. “We will continue to do our job, and we will continue to support our Alaska fishermen.”



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