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Tribal Councils Express Opposition To Permitting Bill

More than 30 tribal organizations have come out in opposition to a permitting bill championed by Gov. Sean Parnell.

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The resolutions sent to the governor’s office on Thursday morning lay out a number of concerns with the bill. Rob Sanderson, Jr., represents the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, and he believes House Bill 77 would put limits on tribal sovereignty and infringe on the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives.

“The bill undercuts our rights to sustain our traditional and customary use, not only of the water but also the land and our ability to harvest,” says Sanderson.

HB77 was pitched last year as a way to streamline the permitting process and encourage development in the state. The bill stalled after a number of constituencies, including Alaska Native groups, expressed reservations. They argued it would give the natural resources commissioner blanket authority to issue general permits and limit opportunities for public involvement. The bill would also make it so that individuals or Native groups would no longer be able to apply for water reservations, which are usually used to protect fish habitat.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources have shown a willingness to make changes to some of the more controversial measures in the bill. But Dorothy Larson with the Curyung Tribal Council in Dillingham thinks that might not be enough to satisfy Native groups.

“I believe that this bill is so flawed that it would be very dangerous for us to try to fix it,” says Larson. “I think we need to scrap it.”

Legislators will decide what to do with it when they head back to Juneau next week.

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