The six candidates running for Haines Borough Assembly made the trip out to the Mosquito Lake School on Wednesday night for the first forum of this local election season. About 20 Upper Valley residents gathered to ask questions and voice concerns.
The candidates this year are:
Newspaper owner Tom Morphet:
“I love this town, and I love the people that live here and I wouldn’t have stayed for 30 years if I didn’t.”
Author Heather Lende:
“I’d like to be on the assembly to say ‘Why not? Yeah, we can try that. Let’s listen.’”
Incumbent Diana Lapham:
“Why do I want to be re-elected? Three years is not long enough.”
Commercial fisherman Ryan Cook:
“Everybody tries to shut down any kind of industry that starts here. And I think we need some jobs.”
Bookkeeper Judy Erekson:
“I’ve got a lot of experience with the numbers, I’ve been doing accounting and bookkeeping for 30, 40 years.”
And business owner Leonard Dubber:
“We need to cut the budget. I am definitely a budget hawk.”
The assembly hopefuls scratched the surface of some big issues like the Portage Cove harbor expansion, mining and exploration in the valley, heliskiing, and, of course, the borough budget.
When it comes to heliskiing, most on the panel agreed that too much time is spent discussing maps and regulations. In borough code, the heliski map, which defines the boundaries for commercial operators, comes up every three years for negotiation. Morphet says it should be revisited every five years, or more, and that the borough has “bigger fish to fry.”
“My biggest gripe with heliskiing is that we spend weeks, months revisiting the issues – ‘where (are the) areas, we want these new areas, we want a special area’ – we’re burning up time that we should be spending figuring out our budget, figuring out a response to these state cuts,” he said.
Lapham, who is finishing up her first term on the assembly, says the timeline for opening up the heliski map in borough code at every three years is there to protect both the heliski industry and residents.
“If there’s no new proposals, if there is no issues, the map won’t be opened up,” she said. “Nobody wants to open up the map. The borough doesn’t want to open up the map arbitrarily and say ‘OK, now what do we want to do?’ No.”
Lende weighed in saying that the rules are the rules, and they shouldn’t be tweaked on a whim.
“I think it really comes down to listening to residents, and not every time the wind blows with a new operator or new idea suddenly change the rules.”
For Cook, the idea of reevaluating the map every three or five years was too short. He suggested reviewing the boundaries every 10 years. Erekson agreed that enough is enough when it comes to studies. For Dubber, the lengthy back and forth over heliskiing was a “waste of time and money.”
“We’ve spent a lot of money on heliskiing and accomplished next to nothing, from what I can see,” Dubber said. “I’d like to see the borough out of the heliskiing business. They’ve started limited entry for heliskiing companies, no. That’s just another form of crony capitalism.”
All the candidates mentioned how their brands of small-town politics would benefit the community, whether it was more involvement by government, or less. Most said they wanted more collaboration with the community, especially on large projects like the harbor expansion. ‘Working together’ was a common thread throughout the two-hour forum. So was the idea of working with what we already have – as in fixing up buildings and other infrastructure around the borough.
Mosquito Lake resident Joe Ordonez brought up Constantine Metal Resources, the company’s exploration north of town, and the possibility of a future mine.
“My question: Are you willing to risk it? And how willing are you?”
The answers varied, but the consensus for all the candidates was that they were not willing to risk much, if anything, for a future mine. Here’s Lende:
“You asked what percentage of risk would be OK, as far as I’m concerned, none. The Chilkat River is our life blood and it has been for this community for 6,000 years, and it sustains not only the people that live here, but two of our major industries – fishing and tourism.”
Erekson agreed. She said after the forum that watershed protection is most important when it comes to the development at the Palmer Project site.
“You just can’t risk it. … I appreciate what they’ve done,” she said. “I did do the tour and I was very impressed with the road building and what they’re doing, and so, if anyone is going to be able to do it, maybe they can pull it off.”
If there was no risk, none of the candidates would oppose a mine, they agreed. For Cook, the idea of more jobs aligns with his platform, but as a fisherman, he says he would have to be sure the risk was low.
“Everybody has their diversities that they do, and if you want to be miner, heck, I had gold fever,” Cook said. ” … But then you start really studying and, like that acid mine stuff, you don’t want that. I can see why people don’t want that here.”
Lapham said that Constantine employees already spend a lot of money in Haines. She added there’s a lot of misinformation floating around and the company’s progress will be accompanied with plenty of education.
Dubber said they should leave politics out of it, which coincided with his mantra of smaller government. He said he might be for the mine if all the rules and regulations are followed.
“I would lean, or nearly, toward supporting it, probably,” Dubber said. “But not circumventing the system that’s been put in place.”
Morphet reminded the audience that the site is still in the exploration phase, and said he wouldn’t take a formal stance on a proposed mine until he saw a detailed plan.
“It seems to me, the question will be: Do they have a plan to guarantee the safe disposal of acid-generating tailings in perpetuity – forever?” he said. “Now, it’s unlikely that you could do that in an economic way, but that should be our standard.”
The six candidates are running for two open seats. The municipal election is Oct. 4.
The next candidate forum is on Sept. 16 at the library starting at 11:45 a.m. The KHNS forum is scheduled for Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. Find the full Mosquito Lake forum audio below.