Mayor decries Tutka Bay Hatchery closure as another attack on Homer's economy
It appears Homer’s mayor is becoming more comfortable casting his tie-breaking vote. After barely using it at all during his first term in office, Mayor Ken Castner on Monday night cast a tie-breaking vote and threatened a veto.
The first instance was when the council took up a resolution supporting the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association and opposing proposed changes in the Kachemak Bay State Park management plan that would force the association’s Tutka Bay Hatchery to close.
Closing the hatchery would starve both the sockeye and pink salmon commercial fisheries and the China Poot dipnet fishery of salmon stock.
Castner was clearly displeased with what he saw as yet another attack on Homer by the governor.
“I'm feeling a little bit peppered by this administration. On one hand, they want us to take local control over masking and stay-at-home orders and everything like that. ‘Oh it's all about local control mayor. You take these things on you know, we want you to take these things on,’” Castner said. “But when it comes down to closing a thousand square miles of traditional fishing zones or eliminating ferries or creating a new activity that's never existed here and taking away an activity that's been here for 45 years, that's a control that's going to happen, you know, in the state Capitol or by an agency and not local. And so that's why I signed onto this thing; to me if we want to keep discussions local, then let's keep them local.”
It was clear during debate that support for the resolution was split among the six city council members, but Mayor Castner was firm.
“I don't like being pushed around, like we have been, and I'm really feeling like our economy is under attack. I mean, how many blows can we take in one year and still go into a season when there's any hope,” Castner said. “So my yes vote is on the table. Everybody knows that deal. I co-signed on it. And so, I'll be breaking the tie if there is one.”
Earlier in the meeting, Homer commercial salmon fisherman Len Fabich was fully behind the city's resolution.
“Kachemak Bay State Park management plan has decided that the Tutka Bay Hatchery is not compatible with the use of our state park. I beg to differ with that,” Fabich said. “It's my opinion that there are a very few people with an agenda that are creating this travesty that we will all be affected by.”
The Kenai River Sportsfishing Association has long sought to close hatcheries in the Cook Inlet drainage. Its former executive director is Ricky Gease, who is now the director of the Alaska Division of Parks. Division spokesperson Monica Alvarez claimed on Monday that Gease was not involved in the Kachemak Bay plan, however, his comments and testimony as the director for Kenai River Sportsfishing were incorporated into the draft plan, as were the comments of many others.
Fabich struck back at the claim that the Tutka Bay Hatchery is only a benefit to the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, saying that hatchery pink salmon level-out the even-odd year return cycle of wild humpies.
“Our even-years, when our wild stock do not generally return in big numbers on the outer coast, the hatchery is a huge, bright spot in our local seine fisheries,” Fabich said. “The returning reds, especially, and pink's returning to the hatchery or hatchery release sites are by far our target fish. It really is a big part of my livelihood. So the argument that it is largely only benefiting the hatchery is false.”
The vote on the resolution to support CIAA and to “strongly oppose” State Parks' efforts to close the Tutka Bay Hatchery split, three-to-three, as Castner predicted. Against the resolution were council members Caroline Venuti, Donna Aderhold and Rachel Lord. In favor were Heath Smith, Joey Evensen and Storm Hansen-Cavasos. The mayor cast his lot with those in favor of the resolution, and it prevailed 4-to-3.
Mayor Castner also threatened a veto on a motion to substitute new language in a resolution regarding a property purchase near the airport. Castner opposed using special water and sewer funds as part of the deal, and the amendment failed on a 3-3 vote. No tie-breaker was needed, as without four votes, the amendment failed. In the end, the council voted to postpone the underlying resolution until January.
* A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Mayor Castner used his tie-breaking vote twice.