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Alaska officials: Salmon ballot initiative could be costly

July 23, 2018 GMT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska ballot initiative that aims to strengthen state law protecting salmon habitat could be costly and delay infrastructure projects, state officials said.

The officials noted the possible negative effects during the Senate State Affairs Committee meeting last week in Anchorage.

The initiative would increase the number of streams that officials must assume have salmon, likely resulting in more state checks on the streams, said Ben White, the environmental program manager for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

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“They’re not always there when we’re there, and so that’s an expense,” White told lawmakers. “It takes us time and effort to get out to the sites at a lot of times. And so, this is going to increase the delivery time of our projects.”

Ron Benkert, a habitat coordinator for the state Department of Fish and Game, told the committee that the state would need to hire more people to enforce the regulations if the measure is enacted.

“There is a significant impact from a cost perspective,” Benkert said. “Our estimate is about $1.3 million a year annually for at least five years.”

Supporters claim the opposite, saying the initiative would eventually save the state money.

“With the assumption that fish are in the streams, that saves the Department of Fish and Game a lot of money and resources — from going out and constantly testing these streams to add them to the existing catalog — so this is really about saving Alaskans money,” Stand for Salmon Director Ryan Schryver told KTOO Public Media in Juneau.

The Alaska Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this year on whether the initiative can appear on the November ballot. The court is expected to issue a ruling by September.