Fish Radio
Chuitna vs. coal water rights decision delayed: hearing set for August
May 21, 2015

 This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – No decision on water rights for salmon versus a coal mine. More on an upcoming public hearing after this.

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 A decision due this month by the state Department of Natural Resources on water rights for salmon streams or a coal mine at Upper Cook Inlet has been delayed until after an August hearing. At issue is competing claims filed in 2009 by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and PacRim Coal of Delaware and Texas.  

The Coalition wants to protect spawning tributaries of the salmon-rich Chuitna River; PacRim wants to dewater the streams and dig Alaska’s largest coal mine. Based on PacRim data, the first phase alone would remove and dewater 20 square miles of salmon habitat, dig down 300 feet and discharge 7 million gallons of mine waste a day into the Chuitna River.

 DNR received over 7,500 public comments in favor of water rights for salmon by the May 9th deadline.   Should DNR rule in favor of the mine over salmon habitat, it will set an unsettling state precedent.

 It would be the first time in Alaska’s state history that we would allow an Outside corporation to mine completely through a salmon stream. And the purpose is to ship coal to China. There would be no domestic use for this coal. And it’s really a very dangerous precedent because if they can do it here in Cook Inlet they will be able to do it anywhere in the state.”  

Bob Shavelson is a director at Cook Inlet Keeper, which along with the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Alaska Center for the Environment, requested the hearing. They objected to some aspects of DNR’s proposal, such as using only coho salmon and prices paid to fishermen to quantify the value of the entire Chuitna watershed.

The hearing was granted by Dave Schade, DNR’s Water Resources Section Chief and scheduled for August 21 in the US Federal Building Annex in Anchorage.  

According to DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels, the hearing details are still being worked out, but testimony will be allowed by individuals or groups who filed objections to the water rights or to DNR’s analyses in the morning, followed by PacRim comments in the afternoon.

Water Chief Schade agrees that the water rights decision is precedent setting, and that it comes down to “saying yes to one applicant, and no to the other.” To Bob Shavelson and the thousands of Alaskans who support a ‘fish first’ state policy, the choice is a no brainer –

“It’s a very simple choice. Are we going to protect wild, healthy Alaska salmon or dig coal so a couple of Texas billionaires can sell it to China.”

DNR’s Ed Fogels said a decision is expected on or before October 9.  

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, celebrating 105 years of partnership with Alaska’s coastal communities. www.oceanbeauty.com In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.

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