The Chilkat River is one of four bodies of water in the state nominated to be an Outstanding National Resource Water. The designation is also known as Tier 3 protection. But no decision can be made on that nomination until the state decides on an evaluation process. A local advisory committee has an idea on who should have the final say.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is gathering input on the Tier 3 designation process. The Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee wrote a letter to the department, saying DEC should have the ultimate authority.
Last year, Governor Walker introduced bills that would give the power to the legislature. But after significant public input he pulled the bills and DEC went back to the drawing board.
The Chilkat Indian Village nominated the Chilkat River for the high-level protection. The designation would shield the water from pollutants, unless they have a short-term and limited impact.
Specifically calling on DEC to have the final say is a step further then the committee has gone in the past. Last summer they wrote a letter that supported giving decision-making power to a state agency instead of the legislature. They said decisions should be scientific rather than political. But at that time, they didn’t name DEC.
Committee member Randy Jackson pushed back on that approach. He said giving decision-making power to a board made up of different agencies would allow for more local control.
“It’s not going to be a good move for us to say DEC should have the ultimate authority without community input,” said Jackson.
But others on the committee said there would be plenty of opportunity for the local community to weigh in. The new letter also requests the evaluation and vetting process include significant public outreach, even a possible advisory board to evaluate specific nominations and pass on recommendations to DEC.
Committee member John Hagen said they shouldn’t give ultimate authority to a board.
“A board approach is in a way no different from a legislative approach where it would politicize the issue and somewhat dilute the power of – and actually make it a lot more difficult because you have too many people involved in the process,” said Hagen. “A single agency approach is prudent. It’s more efficient.”
That’s where the committee ended up, asking for DEC to make the final call. They also said that any Alaska resident should be able to make nominations. DEC is still gathering public input on the Tier 3 evaluation process at their website.