Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources must decide by Oct. 6 whether to approve a water reservation application sought by a citizens group for an in-stream flow reservation in salmon stream habitat that could potentially be strip-mined.
The water reservation was applied for by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, which opposes plans of Delaware-based PacRim Coal LP to mine an area some 45 miles southwest of Anchorage in Upper Cook Inlet known as the Beluga Coal Fields.
Although PacRim still lacks the permits needed to proceed, the company’s legal counsel, Eric Fjelstad, said Aug. 21 that DNR should not allow private citizens “to take over a critical piece of the permitting process.”
“You cannot do a project in this state without impacting fish habitat,” he said. “It is critical that the state find a way to do these sorts of projects.”
Fjelstad told the panel from DNR’s Division of Mining, Land and Water Resources Section that there were economic benefits to the project. The Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Alaska Miners Association, the Council of Alaska Producers and the Resource Development Council for Alaska also urged DNR to consider all uses for the water rather than grant the in-stream flow reservation to the citizens group.
But Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, a nonprofit entity in Homer that advocates for clean water and healthy fish habitat, supported the Citizens Coalition request.
Shavelson said the proposed water reservations would have positive effects on the state’s economy, fish and game resources, recreational opportunities and the public health in the Chuitna watershed and Upper Cook Inlet.
“As Alaskans we recognize that while the value of our natural resources includes a market component, there are also a wide range of economic benefits associated with non-market goods and services,” he said, including the value Alaskans place on the sustainability of their wild salmon runs.
“All we are asking is to keep the water in the streams so everyone can use it, he said.
“I can imagine Alaska without coal. I cannot imagine Alaska without salmon. Alaska is a salmon state. I think it defines who we are as Alaskans.”