“Energizing and optimistic” was how Nancy Lord of Homer described her participation in two days of meetings last week as part of a 250-member transition team advising Governor-elect Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallot. Lord served on the Arctic Policy and Climate Change Subcommittee, one of three Homer residents attending the Transition Team meeting. Joining her were Larry Smith, on the Natural Resources Subcommittee, and Tim Bristol, on the Fisheries Subcommittee.
Recommendations made by the subcommittees include creating a state arctic policy, freezing Gov. Sean Parnell’s special management area revision process, reinstating the coastal zone management program, making the public process more open and transparent, and putting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on an equal footing with the Department of Natural Resources.
The Homer advisers were part of a dozen Kenai Peninsula residents tapped to help Walker transition into office. They met last Friday and Saturday in Anchorage to lend their expertise on everything from fisheries to fiscal policy as Walker, an independent, and Mallott, a Democrat, prepare to take office.
“It’ll be two days of very intense brainstorming, reviewing documents and information and then, out of that, giving the governor-elect and his administration … the best advice on what you, as a group, come out of it with,” Tim Navarre, of Kenai, who was on the fiscal policy team, said before the meetings.
Lord, a Homer writer and author of a book on climate change, “Global Warning,” said the Arctic Policy and Climate Change Subcommittee recommended the need for a state Arctic policy, including a point person in state government for the Arctic, Lord said.
“Alaska needs to have a real active role on every governmental level as an Arctic state and nation,” she said. “We need to be planning for the changing Arctic environment, including climate change but also shipping.”
On his radar, Navarre said, was the state’s budget. Walker and Mallott will be sworn in on Dec. 1 in Juneau, according to a campaign media release, and the state’s budget is due about two weeks after the ceremony.
The quick transition requires the two to move quickly, Navarre said.
The state’s 2013-14 budget, which would need oil prices to be an average of about $117 a barrel to be balanced, is facing a steep decline. Currently, oil prices are approaching about $75 a barrel, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue.
“So there’s already the potential of a shortfall from anywhere from $1-3 billion,” Navarre said.
Likely, he said, his team would be asked to weigh in on portions of the state’s budget that need to be trimmed.
“Governor-elect Walker has raised the issue that he certainly realizes that he’d rather not come into office looking at $75 a barrel oil and $3 billion in deficits, but at the same time, that’s what the status is. That’s why you bring people into all areas of state government to find solutions,” Navarre said.
One recommendation that came out of the Natural Resources Subcommittee in addressing the budget was to put on the back burner major capital projects, Smith said.
“They just have to stop doing studies for the Susitna Dam, the Knik Arm Crossing, the Juneau road,” he said. “They’re dead-on-arrival at the Walker office.”
Smith said the Natural Resources Subcommittee recommended freezing the special management area process, a Parnell move to revise critical habitat area plans, including for the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area. In a letter to Parnell, numerous environmentalists had said that process did not have adequate public review and debate.
“We have this commitment to a new, more transparent and public process,” Smith said of the Walker administration.
In fisheries, several central Kenai Peninsula residents participated.
Debra Holle Brown, of Kasilof, said she could have helped in several areas but was happy to weigh in on fisheries.
Brown, a former chair of the Alaska Republican Party, said her family had a background in commercial fishing and she has followed fishing issues closely.
“There are clearly some frustrations, so you have to have people who can understand, with some breadth and depth. It’s helpful to have someone who understands commercial fishing and yet also understands what’s going on with the personal-use fisheries,” Brown said.
United Cook Inlet Drift Association executive director Roland Maw also was on the team.
Maw said he helped former governors Frank Murkowski and Sarah Palin with their transitions into office and looked forward to weighing in on fisheries management.
“There are short-term goals and long-term goals,” Maw said of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s budget. “I don’t know what other people have done, but I’ve prepared at least three different scenarios (for the organization’s budget).”
Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska office, formerly of Juneau and now living in Homer, said the Fisheries subcommittee had a diversity of opinion and a wide bench of experience that was tremendous.
“It was a real honor to be part of it,” he said. “It was a real breath of fresh air after the present administration.”
The Fisheries subcommittee kept coming around to the same concerns, he said: how important it was to safeguard habitat and clean water. One recommendation was making sure Fish and Game had an equal voice and was on an equal footing with Natural Resources, Bristol said.
The subcommittee also pushed for ways to make Fish and Game more efficient in how it gathers and distributes information to the public.
“(We’re) just hoping for some transparency, whether it’s resource allocation, Board of Fish decision making — making sure there’s a high level of openness and transparency,” Bristol said.
Outside of budget and finance issues, Maw said he had several other recommendations he’d like to make to the transition team, including current threats to the fishing industry.
Maw, Brown and Navarre said they were happy to help with the transition, regardless of the outcome.
“This is just issue-scoping and a good open … conversation. It’s the way Alaska should be,” Brown said.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.