A bill that could affect communities’ rural status and their subsistence rights turned out to be a controversial item at last night’s Kodiak Island Borough Assembly regular meeting.
Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young introduced the bill, titled “The Subsistence Access Management Act of 2015”, which would disallow changing a community to an urban designation unless authorized by Congress. Losing rural status could remove qualification for subsistence rights in communities like Kodiak, which is labeled as legally rural despite being a city.
The ordinance on the agenda moved to support the act, but several audience members stepped up to speak against it.
Coral Chernoff serves on the regional advisory committee for the Kodiak Aleutians area and says the bill seems to be sidestepping the system Alaskans already have in place.
“There’s lots of people around this state who are involved in subsistence, who are involved in boards, who are involved in U.S. fish and wildlife services that already look at all these issues very, very closely,” says Chernoff. “I’d like to see that remain so. Just from talking and emailing around, it seems like the regional advisory councils didn’t even know this was happening.”
Assemblywoman Rebecca Skinner says she also serves on the Kodiak Aleutians regional advisory council and recently met with members. She says having these status decisions made by people as far removed as Washington D.C. is not a good idea.
“The focus is on having local control, so having really the local RACs having kinda the say to determine if the community is rural or not because they’re the people in the community, they know the characteristics of the community, and there was a lot of concern with having those determinations made by people that don’t live in the communities,” says Skinner.
Borough Manger Bud Cassidy recommended the assembly postpone the decision on the ordinance.
“I have to agree, it sounds good on its face, but having done a little more investigation, there’s a lot of issues here and, with the people I’ve talked with, [it] doesn’t like the regional advisory council really has complete knowledge about this,” says Cassidy. “And I think I’m gonna call our DC lobbyist tomorrow really explaining some of the testimony we had tonight, some of the concern about implementing this.”
Assemblywoman Chris Lynch supported dedicating more time to consider the bill’s consequences and any possible alternatives.
“At the very least, I would like to move to this postponement, so that we can see if we need to develop another approach and if we do in fact need to make a recommendation for some other action, then at least we can have a discussion and do that at a work session,” says Lynch.
The assembly agreed to postpone the ordinance to its next regular meeting on July 2.