Story last updated at 8/15/2012 - 1:37 pm
Alaska has more coastline than all of the other U.S. states combined, but unlike all those other states, Alaskans have no say in how their coasts are managed or developed.
If Outside and foreign corporations have their way, that's how it will remain.
A successful coastal zone management program has been in place since the 1970s, but the program expired last year when lawmakers and Gov. Sean Parnell failed to agree on its extension. Despite constant criticism of "the feds" always trying to butt into Alaska's business, the state surrendered authority to guide and control development of its coastline to the U.S. government.
That didn't rest well with the majority of Alaskans. More than 33,000 residents signed a petition to reinstate a program and to put the question to voters as a ballot initiative this fall. On Aug. 28, Alaskans will decide if they want to have a voice at the table.
That's brought out some big guns to defeat the pro-vote. Opponents say the ballot initiative is poorly worded and would create more bureaucracy and hurdles to coastal permitting decisions. The opposition is mostly non-Alaska based entities, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC).
Disclosures from April through July show that $776,000 has been spent to prevent the coastal management initiative from ever making it to the ballot. Of that, 70 percent came from Outside and foreign interests.
Shell Oil of the Netherlands, for example, gave $150,000. Four Canadian-owned mining companies gave a total of $135,000, including Barrick Gold, a major backer of the Chuitna coal project at Upper Cook Inlet. An Idaho-based mining company contributed $75,000. Donations by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association also can be traced to its 15 member companies, 14 of which are based outside of the state. Those numbers are likely to go much higher when the next APOC report comes out on August 21.
"We assumed all along big Outside money would oppose our local voices, but we didn't expect such a huge flood of non-Alaska funding. These mostly foreign companies are opposing Alaskans having a say in how our coastal lands are managed," said Terzah Tippin Poe, co-director of the Alaska Sea Party, a grassroots group formed to regain a coastal voice.
So far more than 200 Alaskans from across the state have donated a total of $64,000 to support a Vote Yes campaign. "Over 30,000 Alaskans signed the petition to get the initiative on the ballot, it has 280 co-sponsors, and is supported by the majority of Alaska's mayors and hundreds of Alaska organizations," said Sea Party co-chair Bruce Botelho said. "Our opponents may throw all kinds of big Outside money at us, but Alaskans know what's right and what's best for the state in the long term."
Voting day is Aug.28 - early in-person and absentee voting begins on Aug. 13. Learn more at www.alaskacoastalmanagement.org/
Frankenflop - The push to keep genetically tweaked salmon off American dinner plates has stalled for now and isn't likely to get traction in Congress until next session. Before the August recess, Sen. Mark Begich pulled an opposition bill he had introduced when it appeared it would fail to pass through a Commerce committee by one vote.
"I want to stress that on this legislation we really worked hard to compromise with members and to make it very clear that the bill focused on genetically engineered fish," Begich said. "Consumer concerns are very widespread - over 70 different groups have opposed this type of fish."
For more than 15 years, a Massachusetts-based company called Aqua Bounty has been trying to get FDA approval to market its super salmon - a fish that is genetically modified to grow three times faster than wild or farmed salmon. Dubbed Frankenfish by critics, it would be the first Genetically Modified animal product OK'd for human consumption. Because the changeling process is listed under "veterinary procedures," no labels are required to alert consumers they are buying it.
"It is not just an Alaska issue, it is a national issue regarding our fisheries," Begich told KDLG/Dillingham. "We have no interest in dealing with the other GM products in this country. We are talking about fish and creating a process that allows more review and ensuring consumers are protected. The FDA has now delayed almost two years, mainly because we have brought up complaint after complaint about the process they have used and the lack of consumer response by their agency."
"You wouldn't catch me serving that to my sons. And it stuns me there has been this attitude of 'don't worry, it's fine.' I am worried and I will do everything I can to make sure it doesn't get out on the market," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She added that when it comes to food safety, it is an area where she wants more involvement by the federal government.
Begich and others point to concerns over disease and Frankenfish escaping and mixing with wild stocks. Congressman Don Young, the Alaska legislature, the National Humane Society and state fishing groups have come out strongly against Frankenfish, as has the National Humane Society.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.