Wednesday, July 31, 2013

State Salmon Stream Decision Draws Criticism

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has rejected a petition from local citizens who have been seeking, for more than two years, to protect wild Alaska salmon streams from coal strip mining in Upper Cook Inlet.

The decision, signed by DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, has drawn strong criticism from the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper, who are represented by Trustees for Alaska in their effort to stop PacRim Coal’s plans to mine in that area.

Judy Heilman, president of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, called the state’s decision a horrible precedent for Alaska wild salmon and the families they support. “PacRim Coal’s mining plans would remove miles and miles of wild Alaska salon streams to a depth of over 300 feet,” Heilman said.  “The Alaska Department of Fish and Game calls the tributaries PacRim would remove as important to salmon, yet the state refuses to formally protect our wild salmon streams.”

“It’s a sad day when Governor Parnell’s policies protect a Delaware corporation’s profits over our wild Cook Inlet salmon runs and the Alaskan families salmon support,” said Terry Jorgensen, a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman and founding member of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. “DNR’s rejection clearly illustrates the state’s failure to protect our wild salmon runs. The governor must understand the importance of salmon to Alaskans, yet his policies are leading us down the same path that led to the demise of salmon runs around the world.”

Back in 2010, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper submitted a petition to the state seeking protective buffers around the Chuitna River and its tributaries under the Alaska Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act.  No coal strip mining would be allowed within salmon streams, but the petition would not preclude mining in the rest of PacRim’s coal lease area. Similar buffers are standard for logging operations and in municipal development plans.

DNR’s Sullivan, in a lengthy decision, said the state’s decision on reconsideration is not in any way an approval of coal mining, nor any particular coal mining project. He cited statutory and constitutional obligations to facilitate responsible development of coal resources, saying he had responsibilities under the Alaska Constitution to encourage and allow responsible resource development.

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