ANCHORAGE -

The crowd that showed up Wednesday evening for a public hearing about a contentious water rights proposal grew so large it turned into a standing-room only event.

H.B. 77, a state proposal, would limit the ability of Alaskans to voice concerns over resource developments that affect waterways near their communities.

The Department of Natural Resources believes the bill would make waterway permitting more efficient, but many have concerns.

In a statement to KTUU, Gov. Sean Parnell said the proposal "does not change any statutes or regulations that protect fish habitat, but it does ensure that private parties are not able to stop any development by locking up our public waters."

John Holman, a Bristol Bay fishing guide and lodge owner, said he disagrees with the bill. 

"The rivers that we currently use could be changed without any public input without the process that we currently have in place, it's not a great one now but at least it's something," Holman said. 

That sentiment was mirrored by many in the room.

H.B. 77 would do three things opponents like Holman disagree with: general permits for reoccurring activities on land and waterways, such as docks, could be issued without public notification; individuals could no longer file for in-stream water rights; and people would be required to prove they are "substantially adversely affected" before appealing approved permits.

"As it stands now somebody outside of the state could appeal a decision," said Tom Crafford, director of project management and permitting for DNR. "They may have nothing at play, but they have the right to appeal a DNR decision."  

Crafford said the changes make the department more efficient by removing that possibility; opponents believe the language used is too broad.

"How does it determine if I’m adversely affected?," Holman said. "I just think that there’s too many questions and there’s too much power given to DNR.

"That, I think, is dangerous."

H.B. 77 must be voted on in the Senate and approved by Parnell before taking effect.

Similar forums were held in Homer and Soldotna.