This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
The Kenai City Council voted to oppose Alaska Ballot Measure 1 at Wednesday’s meeting.
All members of the council besides council member Bob Molloy voted in favor of a resolution that would formally oppose the Stand for Salmon initiative.
The resolution was presented to the council because of uncertainty regarding city projects if it were to pass.
“While Ballot Measure 1, an act providing for the protection of wild salmon and fish
and wildlife habitat is intended to strengthen protection for salmon and other fish and wildlife habitat, it’s potential impact on projects affecting the city are unclear and disputed by proponents and opponents of the initiative,” the resolution said.
The resolution comes just three weeks after the city of Soldotna failed a resolution to oppose Alaska Ballot Measure 1.
The Kenai Bluff Stabilization Project is the city’s number one capital priority. The council believes Alaska Ballot Measure 1 could negatively impact or delay the stabilization project, city road improvements, a Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline with a terminus in Nikiski and continued work at the Kenai Municipal Airport.
There was nearly an hour of public comment from community members both supporting and opposing the resolution.
Clark Whitney Jr., an English teacher at Skyview Middle School, has lived in on the central peninsula for 44 years. He told the council he was speaking on behalf of his students and his children when he opposed the council’s resolution.
“This ballot measure is about our children’s future,” Whitney said. “We want our children to enjoy wild healthy salmon.”
During his public testimony, he rolled out a long piece of paper over five feet long across the chamber floor with a list of west coast streams that are no longer able to support salmon habitat. Two streams on the list are in Alaska.
“Our state legislators will not do it, because the same corporations, which have spent $10 million to defeat Ballot Measure 1, will spend millions more to keep them from doing what’s right for our children, and their children’s children,” Whitney said.
Linda Hutchings gave support for the resolution. Her parents homesteaded in the area and she grew up commercial fishing.
“I’ve watched what has happened over the years in our area,” Hutchings said. “Responsible development has happened. Alaska grew as a state; oil was discovered at Swanson River. The outside money, as it’s referred to, has been our neighbor for more than 50 years. These are people that are your friends, your neighbors, your relatives have jobs and pay taxes to support our communities.”
Chairman of the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition, Ed Schmidt spoke in opposition to the resolution.
“We just passed a resolution to bail out an industry that contributed $3 billion to the Kenai economy,” Schmidt said in reference to a resolution requesting the governor declare the upper Cook Inlet fishery an economic disaster, which the council passed just prior to the public hearing on the Alaska Ballot Measure 1 public hearing. “I don’t understand how we can say it might be other things, with such an important industry, without focusing on the habitat. If we don’t have habitat, we have nothing.
“I understand you don’t want to pay a whole lot, or more than you need to, for the bluff stabilization project, but still I think our bluff stabilization can be done in a way that supports habitat, and as a city council we wouldn’t want to do something that degrades salmon habitat.”
Vice Mayor Tim Navarre, co-sponsor of the resolution, said the ballot measure is a city issue.
“It could have substantial impacts on a number of issues here,” Navarre said.
Council member Bob Molloy was the only member of the council to oppose the resolution because he said the council should stay neutral on issues in the hands of voters.