During a forum sponsored by the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce earlier this week, the three candidates for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Mark Begich discussed several Cook Inlet issues, including:
Q: A tremendous amount of federal dollars have gone into research, particularly for salmon. On the Kenai Peninsula, king salmon returns continue to dwindle. Where has all the money gone and where is the accountability of these funds?
Republican Dan Sullivan: “I don’t know exactly where the money has gone, in terms of federal money. I’m certainly going to be somebody who is focused on wasteful spending, but what we need to do as a state and federal government is work on the science of what’s going on with their fisheries. We have to work on managing for abundance but this issue is both a state and federal issue.”
Democrat Mark Begich: “There are a couple of pieces to the equation. I would not just limit it to salmon, we have other issues, as we know on the peninsula, here in this region with halibut and what’s going on with bycatch, and the impact it’s having on our charter fisheries also. I can’t tell you exactly where each dime went, but I can tell you there’s a lot of research going on both at the state and federal level, to understand … the status of our fisheries. But, sitting there and saying we’re not spending the money right, I think is an incorrect and general statement.”
Libertarian Mark Fish: “Money is always a problem. It’s always going to be a problem for government and accountability is always going to be a problem. You need people on it all the time. What’s not being taken into account here is … are we basing our take on historical resources that have been depleted through increasing predation? I don’t know, I think that’s something that (should be studied).”
Q: Currently there is an anti-setnet initiative moving forward in the state of Alaska. Do you feel the initiative process should have a role in resource management and allocation?
Fish: “Initiative is not a good way to solve the complex issues. What we need to do is elect honest people into government, that look out to the common interest of all Alaskans in this battle. You do that with an initiative and it’s a knee-jerk reaction that never turns out good. So, no, not for resource management, it should never be used.”
Begich: “I know there’s been back-and-forth with the courts on this and I understand now that it’s going to be on the 2016 ballot. I’m not sure (if) utilizing initiatives for resource management is the best way, but it’s allowed and the courts have allowed them to move that forward. Fisheries policy is very complex. An initiative process puts all kinds of things on the ballot and you have to deal with them and the legislative process after they pass, because usually those initiatives are not very clear.”
Sullivan: “My view is similar, in that the best way to manage for abundance, which we all want … is to do it through sound science and working together.”
Q: There has been a lot of talk about the Alaska LNG project. Do you believe Alaskans will see a pipeline? Why or why not and what can be done at the federal level to keep a project of this magnitude going forward?
Begich: “Well you gotta have hope, right? We’ve been talking about this for decades. I feel like we’re moving forward. (We should) get on with the show because every day we delay, for example in Louisiana they’re moving LNG to Korea right now — they’re selling product that should be our product. I’m a big supporter of LNG, I think it’s an important element for Alaska. On top of that, federally, making sure it’s a top priority — making sure it’s a national interest project, because once you do that, you clear all the red tape.”
Fish: “One of the things we can do is transfer our own resources back to our own state and make the decisions here. There’s regionalism that is playing into this and this is why we’ve had so many pipeline plans come and go is because each region of the state is looking for an advantage for their region. We’re not thinking of Alaska and it is a state issue more than a federal. Alaskans (have) got to get their stuff together and decide what they want to do first, and when we decide what we want to do and unify under that plan, then we can go sell it to others.”
Sullivan: “Hope is fine, but so is action and, again, what I’ve focused on in my career, particularly on this, is action. I went to Asia a number of times to market our gas to Asian buyers and, yes, I’ve been to Washington numerous times to lobby our president, lobby the department of energy to expedite permits. I would continue to do this as your U.S. Senator.”
— Compiled by Rashah McChesney
Morris News Service – Alaska