Point of View: HB 52 steals a recreational jewel from state parks

Comment by Friday on House Bill 52.

This Friday the Alaska House Resources Committee will be considering Rep. Sarah Vance’s House Bill 52, which proposes cutting 124 acres out of Kachemak Bay State Park to make it available to the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery and its operator, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association. Most of us here in the Kachemak Bay region are outraged.

We do not want to see the camel’s nose under the tent of Alaska’s State Park System. HB 52 steals a recreational jewel from locals and starts a pattern of plundering lands from state parks to hand to corporations.

We do not want to see wasted government support for what has always been a failing hatchery. Frankly, Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery is a boondoggle. We have calculated an average annual loss of about $600,000 since 2012 and a minimum loss of about $9 million dollars since 1991. Folks who have worked in the Alaska Department of Commerce have described it as among the worst projects in the state.

We ask legislators to audit Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery to assess the true cost of this facility to Alaskans, which we know is much higher when including Salmon Enhancement Taxes paid by Cook Inlet commercial fishermen (most of whom don’t even fish there), the Alaska Department of Natural Resource’s permitting and lawsuits, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Regional Planning Teams, Otolith Recovery, lawsuits, permitting, Annual Reports, borrowed money and debt service.

We ask legislators to look at the cost and benefit of this hatchery to commercial fishermen. Lower Cook Inlet Fishermen make 97.5% of their money from places other than Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery and Upper Cook Inlet Fishermen make zero dollars there — yet they still have to pay for Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery through their Salmon Enhancement Tax! Overall, CIAA owes the state $16 million, and legally, much of this debt falls on the backs of commercial permit holders. This is a massive problem. We need to know exactly how much CIAA is indenting commercial permit holders.

Lastly, Rep. Vance has started a petition that falsely claims that the China Poot Dipnet fishery will close if the pink operation closes. This is a made-up problem to bully the bill through. China Poot does not have to be at stake here. The Lagoon Hatchery was closed for many years and China Poot sockeye were still stocked. The sockeye fry are reared in the Trail Lakes Hatchery near Seward and this could easily continue.

If you care about state parks and/or if you care about government waste, please submit public comment to hres@akleg.gov.

Roberta Highland is a 37-year resident of Homer and president of the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society.