Alaska editorial: Irwin's outreach helps state develop, conserve

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

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Alaska's commissioner of natural resources has had it, and who can blame him?

Tom Irwin says that "anyone willing to "connect the dots" can see that Alaska's resource industry is being targeted to prevent development.

Meanwhile, Alaska's Constitution is quite clear that the state must develop, and develop sustainably and responsibly.

Article 8 is all about natural resources, and first off, it says, "It is the policy of the state to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest." It directs the Legislature to utilize, develop and conserve all the state's natural resources, including land and water, for the maximum benefit of the state's people.

"I take significant exception to efforts to interfere with that mandate or the corresponding public process," Irwin said earlier this month in announcing an effort to combat those roadblocks. "While it is clear that we must do our utmost to protect our clean water, healthy fish runs, and subsistence opportunities, we also have an obligation to all residents to provide economic opportunities."

Irwin ticked off a partial list of assaults on the state's efforts to develop responsibly, including a proposed initiative to deny any mines the use of state water; lawsuits to block the Kensington Mine and prevent a gold project on Native and private land; and initiatives to restrict sound development of state and private land.

What such efforts do is pervert the public process which, in Alaska's case, includes what Irwin characterized as a "world-class system" for natural resource use permitting and development. The process involves thorough reviews of development proposals. And if you look around Alaska, or at its fish runs, for example, you can see that the state takes its obligation to protect as seriously as its mandate to develop.

But Irwin isn't just crying out in the wilderness, cursing the darkness. He plans to do something positive.

He says the Department of Natural Resources will hold a series of workshops around the state on resource permitting and regulations. The idea will be to educate people on Alaska's environmental laws and regulation and the permitting process, and to get ideas from people on how the process can be improved. The assumption is that people will want to know how things are supposed to work and that they might have some ideas about how to make them work better.

We commend the commissioner on the effort. It's satisfying sometimes to grumble about people not understanding us; it's much more helpful to explain ourselves, and seek help in doing a good job.

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