Back to the Future
It was like the 80s logging and mill battles all over again last night at the Chilkat Center only this time it was mining vs. fish. (Sort of. It wasn't meant to be, but we jumped the gun.) "A little tense" is how one friend described the informational meeting on Tier 3 or Outstanding National Resource Water status for the Chilkat River under the Clean Water Act. (I know, it’s a mouthful.) Michelle Hale of the Alaska DEC spoke and answered questions about the river’s recent nomination by the Klukwan Village and a statewide fishermen’s group. She was the epitome of grace under pressure; helpful, brave, soft-spoken, steadfastly polite and resolutely topical in the face of explosive interruptions and challenges from some in the standing-room crowd.
(‘Just another fun night out in Haines,’ as one friend whispered, adding, ‘Why do I keep coming to these things. I should know better by now.’—‘Because it’s important, and we love this town,’ I told her, although about a third of the way into the meeting I was thinking of putting my house up for sale.)
Not everyone was ready to throw a punch, but the ones who were set my heart banging, especially when a few implied that they spoke for all of us, when they certainly don't. Some comments about Klukwan veered dangerously close to racism. Thank goodness Michelle impressed upon the majority to listen and ask questions rather than argue, and thus avoided a brawl.
From what I gathered from Michelle, there are two issues. First are the clean water regulations known as Tier 3, that we don’t have in Alaska now, but are required to create by federal law, especially now that the Chilkat River and two others have been nominated for an Outstanding National Resource Water designation that requires a higher level of water protection. The state needs a process for doing this, and the governor has proposed legislation to that end. Secondly, once the process issue is resolved, there’s the local issue of granting the Chilkat River the new special status or not. (I think that’s what Michelle said. I was more rattled by the tone of the crowd than she was.)
Afterwards I thanked her, and apologized for us, assuring her that Haines isn’t as bad as we seem. (I hope I’m right.) Next time (and it seems that there will certainly be many more visits from DEC water quality experts during this process) she should come to Main Street on a First Friday, or go to the library for storytime, or attend the fair, or stop by the brewery for a beer. Maybe then we'll have a potluck on the beach before the meeting, down where the mighty and generous Chilkat River meets the sea.