October 17th, 2013

Chuitna coal mine location Credit:

Chuitna coal mine location

Court: State Violating Alaskans’ Rights to Protect Salmon

Parnell Administration Refuses to Process Applications to Reserve Water for Salmon

ANCHORAGE – The State of Alaska violated Alaskans’ constitutional rights by refusing to process a four-year-old application to reserve water in the Chuitna River watershed for wild salmon, according to an Anchorage Superior Court Ruling released yesterday.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for every Alaskan who wants to protect wild salmon and the Alaskan way of life,” said Ron Burnett, a fisherman, hunter and founding member of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition.   “Time and again, the state of Alaska has put the interests of Outside mining interests ahead of the rights of Alaskan residents. This decision  should help restore the balance.”

Haulin'  and diggin' for coal Credit:

Haulin’ and diggin’ for coal

In August 2009, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition filed applications for instream flow reservations (IFR’s) with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The purpose of the applications is to ensure adequate water flows for wild salmon in a tributary of the Chuitna River threatened by the Chuitna coal strip mine.

Yesterday’s ruling found DNR’s refusal to process the IFR applications amounted to “unreasonable delay,” and also violated Alaskans’  constitutional due process rights. The court also noted how DNR issued water use permits to the coal company while ignoring the requests to keep water in the stream for wild salmon.

“We had to spend a lot of time and money simply to get DNR to obey basic safeguards to protect wild salmon.” said Burnett. “It shouldn’t be this hard to get the Parnell Administration to protect salmon habitat.”

PacRim Coal’s proposed Chuitna coal strip mine on the west side of Cook Inlet would be the first project in state history to mine directly through a wild salmon stream.

The court ruling comes as Gov. Parnell pushes to deny Alaskans the right to file instream flow reservations to protect salmon, and to remove Alaskans’ voice from many natural resource permitting decisions — through House Bill 77.

“The Parnell Administration knew it was breaking the law when it denied our efforts to keep water in our fish streams, and now it wants to change the law with HB 77 rather than allow Alaskans to protect our salmon,” explains Burnett. “This is part of a steady and deliberate effort to silence Alaskans in basic decisions governing our natural resources.”

Attorney Valerie Brown with the public interest law firm Trustees for Alaska argued the case for the local

Contact: Ron Burnett, 907.230.0225

The Chuitna Citizens Coalition is a group of landowners, sport and commercial fisherman, and conservationists working to protect the beautiful Chuitna River from destruction by PacRim Coal.