The Chilkat River. (Abbey Collins)

The Chilkat River. (Abbey Collins)

How should nominations for Outstanding National Resource Water protection be evaluated? State officials are trying to figure that out. At a recent meeting of the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee, members debated whether they should take a stance in the process.

Advisory committee members Derek Poinsette and Randy Jackson went to Juneau for a recent workshop on the Outstanding Water, or Tier 3 nomination process. That was led by the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Michelle Hale.

Tier 3 designations shield waterways from significant pollutants. The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan nominated the Chilkat River for the high level protection. But the nomination is in limbo because the state is still working out the process for evaluating requests.

Poinsette suggested the committee submit an official public comment. But not everyone in the group was sure they need to weigh in at this point. Here’s Skagway’s Darren Belisle.

“To me as an advisory board it’s not our job to figure out all the rules and regulations for this, which seems to be what the topic keeps going to,” said Belisle. “Our job is to say that we should go to this agency, this agency and that’s what we support or not support. Not to figure out what all the rules are.”

Will Prisciandaro also questioned whether it’s the group’s job to get involved in this part of the conversation.

“Making the river Tier III or not is going to have a major impact on fish, game, people in the valley,” said Prisciandaro. “That is definitely what this board does. But as far as developing rules to mold that process, it could be hard – you might not like something – the molding of the process, I don’t know if it fits in this board or not.”

But Kip Kermoian pushed back on that.

“This is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Kermoian. “If we have an opportunity to express how we feel regarding sustainability of these resources, anything we can do to contribute to the process that’s going to affect that end is valuable. That’s what the AC is, that’s what we do.”

So did Poinsette.

“I think it does matter to us,” said Poinsette. “Because I think if it’s a DEC process or it’s a board process, they will listen to us a lot more than if it’s the governor or the legislature.”

Poinsette drafted a comment letter. It’s his suggestion that DEC have the ultimate authority over Tier 3 designations. He also made recommendations about what criteria should be used in evaluating requests, and who should be able to make nominations.

Last summer the committee wrote a letter in support of giving decision-making power to a state agency instead of the legislature, saying decisions should be scientific rather than political.

Kermoian reiterated that stance last week.

“My view is that it’s critical that we voice our concerns and support of sustainability for those resources,” said Kermoian. “And having it science based rather than political based is everything in my opinion.”

In that first letter, the group didn’t specify which state agency should have the final say.

Last year, Governor Walker introduced legislation that would put nomination decisions in the hands of lawmakers, but withdrew the bills after receiving pushback.

In a recent teleconference on the subject, Hale said if decisions were left solely to DEC, it’s unclear how the state would pay for the additional time and resources.

Despite some members hesitation, the Fish and Game committee does plan to draft a comment letter. They’ll take into account Poinsette’s suggestions and their previous correspondence. Their next meeting is scheduled for April 27.