Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 124
02/09/2006 08:00 AM COMMUNITY & REGIONAL AFFAIRS
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HB 378-CHILKAT BALD EAGLE PRESERVE ADV COUNCIL 8:07:22 AM CO-CHAIR OLSON announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 378, "An Act designating a representative of Chilkat Snowburners, Inc. as an ex officio member of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council and removing the mayor of the City of Haines as an ex officio member of the council." 8:07:28 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS moved to adopt CSHB 378, Version 24-LS1486\F, Kane, 1/25/06, as the working document. There being no objection, Version F was before the committee. 8:07:46 AM KACI SCHROEDER-HOTCH, Staff to Representative Thomas, House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee, Alaska State Legislature, paraphrased from the following written sponsor statement [original punctuation provided]: The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve was created by the State of Alaska in 1982. The preserve, located along the Haines Highway, was created to protect the world's largest concentration of Bald Eagles and their habitat. Along with the large eagle population, the preserve is home to five species of salmon that spawn in the surrounding streams and tributaries. At the heart of the Eagle Preserve, between 18 and 24 mile of the Haines Highway, is the main viewing area for eagle watchers. This area hosts a particularly large concentration of eagles due to the availability of salmon and open water in the winter months. In order to protect the sanctity and utility of the Eagle Preserve, the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council was created. The council consists of 12 seats representing local, state, environmental, traditional, and commercial interests. One of these seats is dedicated to the Haines City Mayor. However, the City of Haines and the Haines Borough have since consolidated leaving the seat for the Haines City Mayor open. CSHB 378 designates this open seat to a person who represents a recreational use who has been appointed by the Haines Borough Mayor. 8:08:55 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS informed the committee that he is presently the chair of the Chilkoot Indian Association, and therefore fills one of the designated seats on the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council ("Council"). However, he said that he hasn't attended any of the meetings. 8:09:17 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS related that there was enough response in regard to designating that the vacant seat would be filled by the Chilkat Snowburners, Inc. as specified in the original legislation [that it has been changed to refer to a "Haines nonprofit recreational group"]. Furthermore, Version F specifies that the borough mayor will select the nonprofit user group. He noted that the borough itself could qualify as a recreational nonprofit user group. Co-Chair Thomas recalled that there was a suggestion to have the fishing industry represented on the Council, to which he pointed out that the Council already has representation from the following: three Native groups that protect subsistence user groups; U.S. Fish and Wildlife; Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G); Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation; and Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He reminded the committee that there is no logging or any development within the preserve, and therefore he opined that it would be best to fill the vacant position with a group that is in [and uses] the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve ("Preserve"). 8:12:04 AM REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA inquired as to the other members of the Council. CO-CHAIR THOMAS specified that the Council consists of a commercial user group; an environmental group; three Native groups, a representative from ADF&G; a member of the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee; the Mayor of Haines; a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; a representative of business and industry; and a representative of the Division of Forestry. This legislation merely fills a vacancy created by the consolidation of the City of Haines and the Haines Borough. 8:13:25 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX surmised then that without passage of HB 378, there would be a vacancy on the Council due to the consolidation of the city and borough eliminating the position of the mayor of the City of Haines. CO-CHAIR THOMAS replied yes, and characterized it as a loss for the community. In further response to Representative LeDoux, Co-Chair Thomas related his understanding that some ex officio members are voting members while others are not. 8:14:35 AM REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN turned attention to the committee packet, which contains concerns from the birding community regarding HB 378. CO-CHAIR THOMAS, in regard to the concern that a public seat is being replaced, clarified that the legislation is addressing a seat that is vacant due to the Haines city and borough consolidation. The desire, he explained, is to designate an individual from the community. With regard to special interest groups, Co-Chair Thomas opined that each of the seats on the Council is filled with a special interest group. This legislation does nothing to reduce the size of the Preserve. He highlighted that the Preserve is the only one in Alaska and it has less restrictions than a park in that locals can continue to use it in their traditional manners. 8:18:22 AM ROB GOLDBERG, Haines resident, reminded the committee that the purpose of the legislation establishing the Preserve was to protect the eagles and the salmon on which they feed. However, he wasn't sure that this legislation would be consistent with the aforementioned goals of the Preserve. He suggested that since the vacant seat was formerly a municipal seat for the City of Haines, it should be designated for a borough assembly member in order to maintain the municipal representation. Mr. Goldberg highlighted that the Preserve is of national significance and national groups are reviewing [this legislation] carefully. 8:20:34 AM REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA inquired as to whether the ex officio members of the Council are voting members. MR. GOLDBERG replied that he didn't know. 8:21:05 AM JERRY LEWANSKI, Director, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), related his understanding that [all members of the Council, including the ex officio members] do vote. However, he offered to research the matter to be sure. CO-CHAIR OLSON, upon reviewing the membership of the Council, commented that it appears that every member seems to represent a special interest group. 8:21:38 AM PETER GOLL, Haines resident, specified that all members of the Council vote. Mr. Goll then reviewed the creation of the Preserve, which is a small enclosure within the larger Haines State Forest. The Haines State Forest, he explained, is a multiple-use area that's available for recreation, logging, and mining. The Preserve is unique in that it's withdrawn from multiple use, for the specific purpose of protecting the salmon habitat that both the eagles and the locals depend. However, commercial activities, activities that don't damage the primary purpose of the Preserve, were allowed after 1987. He noted that the Preserve also protects subsistence and traditional uses. MR. GOLL recalled that the sponsor has made public statements relating his intent to reduce the size of the Preserve, which has attracted national attention. This legislation seems to further indicate a real threat, he opined. Replacing the seat designated for an elected public official who represents all the people in the community with a special interest group appointed by the mayor, who has no power to do so, is a clear effort to undermine public control of the Preserve and replace it with designated special interest control preferred by the sponsor. He said, "It is a clear attack on the Preserve. It is the opening battle in a national conflict. It is going to damage the economics of Haines by putting us into a conflict when we don't need one." Mr. Goll echoed earlier testimony that if this is truly housekeeping, then the vacant seat should continue to be filled by a municipal official. 8:26:49 AM MR. GOLL, in response to Representative Neuman, confirmed that the mayor of Haines is an elected position. Mr. Goll said that the mayor of Haines is out of town and hasn't had an opportunity to consult with the borough assembly on this matter. He charged that HB 378 was sponsored knowing full well that the mayor was out of town and no deliberations would take place with the assembly. Furthermore, the Chilkat Bald Eagle Advisory Committee hasn't met on this matter either. 8:27:32 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS said that the Haines borough mayor has had input, which is why the legislation specifies that the mayor will appoint the seat. MR. GOLL interjected that he spoke with mayor last night who was aware of the language [but hasn't had the opportunity to meet] formally [with the assembly]. CO-CHAIR THOMAS reiterated that he spoke with the Haines borough mayor regarding appointing the vacant seat. The mayor, he said, was in agreement with that. 8:28:23 AM PETE LAPHAM, Member, Chilkat Snowburners, informed the committee that he has been a recreational user and worker in the Preserve for a good portion of his life. He highlighted that one of the traditional uses of the Preserve is recreation. 8:29:37 AM REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN related his belief that those who recreate tend to want to take care of the area in which they recreate. He asked if Mr. Lapham believes the Chilkat Snowburners, were a member of the group appointed to the Council, would be able to protect the Preserve. MR. LAPHAM related that the Chilkat Snowburners police the Preserve for trash. Furthermore, the Chilkat Snowburners, he opined, work well with other recreational groups. In fact, the Chilkat Snowburners have also been involved in rescue efforts located inside and outside of the Preserve. REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN commended the Chilkat Snowburners for its efforts. 8:32:23 AM JOHN SCHOEN, Senior Scientist, Audubon Alaska, informed the committee that the National Audubon Society was deeply involved in the formation of the Preserve in 1982. He opined that the Council has served all interests well for more than 20 years. Mr. Schoen related that the language designating a [vacated] elected official's seat to a special interest group would upset the balance of the Council, which is of concern. Although the change incorporated in Version F is a step in the appropriate direction, he opined that [Audubon Alaska] would be more comfortable with having a representative of broad public interest rather than a special interest representative. 8:35:17 AM BETH PELUSO described herself as an avid birder who has traveled to Haines to experience the Bald Eagle festival. She reminded the committee that the Preserve was created because the area has the highest concentration of bald eagles and is an international treasure that should be kept for all to enjoy. The Preserve is a huge resource for the community. Ms. Peluso recommended that a municipal official fill the seat vacated by the mayor of Haines. 8:38:24 AM MS. PELUSO, in response to Representative Neuman, reiterated that the now vacant position that was filled by the mayor of Haines was responsible for representing the entire community, and therefore changing it to a specific user group would narrow the representation. 8:40:30 AM REPRESENTATIVE PEGGY WILSON, Alaska State Legislature, surmised that some of the testimony today has related fear in regard to what might happen if there is a lot of recreation in the [Preserve]. However, she recalled growing up in Iowa when no eagles were around, although now there are tons of them, even in the face of all the development. Therefore, she related her belief that eagles are more resilient than people think and noise isn't going to scare them away. 8:42:05 AM CO-CHAIR OLSON closed public testimony. 8:42:11 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS, in response to Representative Cissna, confirmed that the statutes specify [in broad terms] the groups to be represented on the Council. This legislation, he clarified, merely removes the seat filled by the mayor of the City of Haines and replaces if with a designee specified by the mayor of the Borough of Haines. 8:46:10 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS, in response to Representative LeDoux, confirmed that the legislation creating the Council didn't originally include a member of a recreational group. In further response to Representative LeDoux, Co-Chair Thomas said that he didn't know why that group wasn't included in the membership of the Council. In response to Representative Salmon, Co-Chair Thomas opined that the community of Haines needs representation, in the form of a recreational user group, on the Council in order to provide balance. 8:48:01 AM REPRESENTATIVE KOTT indicated that an 11-member group, which would occur if the vacant position isn't filled, would seem to be a more manageable size group to come to conclusions on matters. He then asked if the two-year terms of the members of the Council are staggered. CO-CHAIR THOMAS related his belief that most of the terms are staggered, although a few seats may come open at the same time. REPRESENTATIVE KOTT related his understanding that the function of the Council is to assist the department in developing and monitoring a management plan for the Preserve. CO-CHAIR THOMAS replied yes, adding that the Council is an advisory board that is run very well. With regard to the number of seats, Co-Chair Thomas informed the committee that with the 12-member Council about half the time the Council is unable to establish a quorum. 8:50:15 AM REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if any consideration was given to the suggestion of the mayor selecting an city council member to fill the vacant position. CO-CHAIR THOMAS said that the mayor could do so if that council member is a member of a recreational user group. He emphasized that in and around the Preserve is a multi-use. In fact, there are logging roads that pass through the Preserve. He echoed Representative Wilson's characterization that eagles aren't easily disturbed. 8:51:19 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX asked if any consideration was given to expanding the Council such that the seat for the mayor of the City of Haines would be replaced with another municipal official and an additional seat for a recreational user group. CO-CHAIR THOMAS turned to Mr. Goll's suggestion to have the vacant seat selection voted on by the borough assembly, and pointed out that such can already occur. Therefore, he didn't see the problem [with the language in Version F]. He reiterated the difficulty the Council already has establishing quorum and suggested that adding another seat to the Council would add to the difficulty in establishing a quorum. Co-Chair Thomas opined that he tried to make the [change in the seat] as broad as possible while protecting the integrity of the community and providing oversight. 8:53:35 AM REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN moved to report CSHB 378, Version 24- LS1486\F, Kane, 1/25/06, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 378(CRA) was reported from the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee.