Many Alaskans are up in arms over a National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration proposal to designate 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as critical habitat to protect beluga whales.
The idea pits industry against environmentalists.
"We also need to make sure that they are protected as much as possible in the areas that they use and that development that happens does not harm them any more than necessary," said Nancy Lord, who wrote the book "Beluga Days."
"We think that the restrictions that will be put in place because of the endangered species listing and the subsequent critical habitat designations will not help the belugas in any way, it will only hurt economic and community development opportunities that have been done responsibly," Brune said.
A critical habitat designation is looming around the corner.
A decision could take months.
"The critical habitat designation is an important step and you know there's been a lot of rhetoric, a lot of fear-mongering, a lot of arm-waving, the-sky-is-falling kind of stuff that the designation of the critical habitat area is going to somehow shutdown industry," said Bob Shavelson, the Cook Inlet Keeper.
"Whether the Endangered Species Act is being used appropriately here, I question. I think it's being used more to shut down responsible resource and community development rather than for the preservation of the species," Brune said.
In a critical habitat, federal agencies must take steps to prevent any actions that could destroy or jeopardize the endangered species.
Because scientists say it's unknown what's preventing Cook Inlet's belugas from rebounding, industry workers fear everything could come to a screeching halt.
Politicians are on the offensive.
"I think it will have an impact. When I was mayor we were concerned about the impact to the port, as well as to our waste water treatment facility and I think that there is more research to be done and the designation is premature," Sen. Mark Begich said.
The Municipality of Anchorage hired an attorney and state legislators filed a resolution asking the state to oppose the designation.
But environmentalists accuse the state of overreacting.
"I think that that is just creating fear in people in an unnecessary way and the history of critical habitat designations and the Endangered Species Act does not show that industry will shut down," Lord said.
"When you polarize and when you ask people can we do this, absolutely, they will agree it's not a choice between responsible development and beluga whales. We have to have both," Shavelson said.
Industrial projects can continue in a critical habitat area with special permits.
"I think we have to look at the facts, and kind of weed out a lot of the noise that we're hearing here, and recognize that we kind of must have a healthy beluga whale population, in conjunction with responsible development," Shavelson said.
Critics say it's not the permits they're worried about.
"They do work together, they do coexist but the threat of litigation of stopping projects before they even start, is huge with an ESA listing," Brune said.
A critical habitat designation opens up the possibility of lawsuits that could put projects in limbo.
"In Alaska and a lot of other places, it's a convenient bogey man to point to ‘the environmentalists' as if they're this block of folks out there that are running around with their hair on fire filing lawsuits," Shavelson said.
Both sides agree the whales and resource development can work successfully side by side.
The first public comment period on the proposed critical habitat was Wednesday night in Soldotna.
Federal officials held their first public hearing Wednesday night in Soldotna.
The public comment hearing gave both sides an opportunity to stand up and speak out.
Even though only a handful of people showed up, NOAA officials say it was a success.