Public should be heard on Sealaska bill

Posted: Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In October 2009, I had the opportunity to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests about Senate Bill 881, the Sealaska land transfer bill. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich were there, as were other members of the committee.

This makes me the only person from Prince of Wales Island to have had an opportunity to speak directly to the decision makers in an official setting. This is not fair to those who wish to express their own opinions about this legislation.

I did not intend to speak for all of the interested people on Prince of Wales and indeed that would have been impossible. The Craig City Council recently called for a formal field hearing on Prince of Wales so the opinions and attitudes of the people most directly impacted by the legislation could be heard by the senators who will be making a decision that will change the face of Southeast Alaska.

This call was echoed by Petersburg as well as numerous private citizens who want their voices heard.

Murkowski herself suggested a field hearing on Prince of Wales in an interview but has not followed through. Instead of a formal hearing that would allow citizens to express their opinions directly to their elected senators, a staffer, Mr. Kleeschulte, intends to come to Prince of Wales and take recorded testimony in a town hall style meeting. Although courteous to opponents of the bill, Kleeschulte has long been an advocate for this legislation, working closely with Sealaska lobbyists to push this bill through.

Speaking to a tape recorder and having your message conveyed through a biased intermediary is not the same as a hearing in front of the decision makers of the committee itself. Although I did the best I could to represent a range of opinion when I testified, it is impossible for one person to capture the breadth and depth of opposition to this bill on Prince of Wales Island.

I call on the senators of the committee, and especially Murkowski, to come hear for themselves from the people.

Bob Claus

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council



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