Alaskans overflow Anchorage hearing on salmon habitat ballot measure

Alaskans testified on Ballot Measure 1, a proposed change to state law on salmon habitat, which voters will decide on Election Day. (KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - So many people showed up to a hearing on Ballot Measure 1, which would change laws protecting salmon habitat in Alaska, that attendees spilled out of the auditorium and into the hallway at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office Tuesday.

Dozens of Alaskans signed up to testify at the hearing -- with most in attendance opposing the measure, which will be on Alaska's general election ballot November 6.

The hearing kicked off with opening statements from prominent ballot sponsorship and opposition. Stephanie Quinn-Davidson is a fisheries scientist who worked in salmon fisheries on the Yukon River.

"We are at a critical moment in the history of our state," Quinn-Davidson said. "Our 60-year-old ineffective law that is meant to protect salmon habitat will not protect us from the worst effects of mining and over-development on salmon."

Aaron Schutt, President and CEO of Doyon Unlimited, represented the measure's opposition.

"Ballot Measure 1 would eliminate our science-based fish habitat protections and replace them with red tape and unclear and untested regulations," Schutt said.

Many of those who spoke against the measure were scientists for resource development companies who claim permitting restrictions already in place in Alaska are robust enough.

Others spoke against the proposal out of fear that it would eliminate vital jobs in Alaska.

The ballot measure was drafted by a group called Stand for Salmon, which says it will modernize Alaska's laws on protecting salmon habitat as Alaska's salmon runs are declining.

Stand for Salmon President Ryan Schryver says the measure's opposition has significantly more funding than the measure drafters. He says Tuesday's disproportionate representation against the measure largely stems from that financial difference.

"Our opponents are primarily deep pocketed, foreign mining and oil companies," Schryver said. "And they've been able to pay people to show up at these types of events."

Stand for Alaska: Vote No on 1 Campaign Manager Kati Capozzi says Alaskans land on both sides of the measure, regardless of funding.

"I think you have a variety of people who feel very passionate about this issue," Capozzi said. "And so whether they're being, whether they're on the company payroll or not, they have shown up to let their voices be heard."

Earlier this summer, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the ballot measure must strike some key provisions in order to appear on the ballot.

[RELATED: Salmon habitat initiative can appear on ballot, with changes, Supreme Court rules]

Anchorage's hearing is the fourth of eight public hearings required on the ballot measure. The remaining hearings are:

Friday, Sept. 21 - Sitka - 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. at Harrigan Centennial Hall

Monday, Sept. 24 - Fairbanks - 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. - Legislative Information Office

Tuesday, Sept. 25 - Bethel - 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. - Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center

Saturday, Sept. 29 - Dillingham - 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. - Bristol Bay Campus

Saturday, Oct. 13 - Statewide Teleconference - 1p.m. - 3 p.m. - Phone testimony only

Email testimony will be accepted here.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Editor's Note: This story originally reflected Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott's estimate that "hundreds" of people had signed up to testify. A Channel 2 reporter's count showed about 65 people signed up to testify, though the room was still overflowing with people.

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