A controversial proposal for aerial spraying of herbicides in Southeast Alaska is getting a second hearing today.
The Native organization Klukwan Inc. filed a permit application earlier this year to spray herbicides on Long Island, near the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island, to control the growth of alder and salmonberries and promote timber growth.
Opponents argue the spraying could have local health and ecological effects and statewide image fallout.
The public comment period for the application closes on June 21.
Opponents have argued that aerial spraying is harmful to subsistence resources and that it will taint Alaska's wild salmon fishery.
Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, is holding a teleconference meeting at legislative information offices in Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Sitka today between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Klukwan held public hearings earlier this month in Ketchikan, Craig and Hydaburg. But Ellis' office argues the state should have held the hearings statewide.
Ellis staff member Garen Tarr said many were unable to attend the public comment meetings while visiting Juneau for Celebration 2004, a biennial Native gathering that draws large numbers of village residents.
Tarr said state regulations requiring Klukwan to pay the costs of the hearing creates an inherent conflict of interest. She said many are concerned that the spraying will not only harm the environment but also could create a perception that Alaska salmon are affected by the spray.
"Even the perception that the fish is tainted is not good," Tarr said.
Kristin Ryan, director of the state Division of Environmental Health, said all testimony at the three meetings was recorded, transcribed by an independent firm and submitted for the public record.
"Klukwan never touched the tapes," Ryan said.
She said the Southeast meetings were not purposefully held during Celebration and that despite requests, they could not reschedule the meetings.
"A change to them would have been additional costs to Klukwan," she said.
Ryan acknowledged that no one testified in support of the permit at any of the three meetings.
Aurah Landau of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council attended all three meetings, adding that about 40 people from Hydaburg, approximately a quarter of the town's population, testified in opposition to the permit.
Ryan said Klukwan already has sprayed herbicides on Long Island but not from the air, adding that about two-thirds of Long Island is owned by the corporation and should not be used for subsistence hunting and gathering. She said she could require Klukwan to prevent access to the island as a stipulation for the permit.
"If I can determine that it will harm the environment or public health, then I can reject the permit," she said.
She said the department likely will decide whether to issue the permit before the end of the summer, at which point opponents can decide to appeal the decision.
Public comments on the proposal must be submitted by June 21, 2004, to DEC, Division of Environmental Health, 1700 East Bogard Road, Building B, Suite 202, Wasilla, AK 99654.
WEB LINK: For more information on the Klukwan application see: www.state.ak.us/dec/eh/pest/klukwan.htmTo attend the public hearing by phone call 1-800-395-5073.