Fish Radio

Chuitna water rights decision days away

September 30, 2015

Chuitna coal mine overview Credit: DNR

Chuitna coal mine overview
Credit: DNR

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Water rights for salmon or coal?  The state has just days to decide. More after this –

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The State of Alaska has six days to decide if water rights go to salmon or to what would be the state’s largest coal mine.

Governor Walker certainly has a lot on his plate from the gas line to the fiscal crisis, but the decision he has to make in the Chuitna water shed in Upper Cook Inlet is precedent setting – it’s a decision whether to protect salmon habitat or give it away for a one time use. 

Bob Shavelson is a director at Cook Inletkeeper who, along with the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and others met with the governor a month ago.

And we put them all the signatures of 15,000 Alaskans and all the evidence that you can’t restore a salmon stream after digging down 300 feet below it to mine the underlying coal. We also showed information that shows the coal markets are dead and dying and they are not going to come back. So it makes no sense to give this resource away to china because China doesn’t want it. 

Alaska’s only other operating coal mine, Usibelli, has stopped all exports due to poor markets.

An independent report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis addressed public statements made by PacRim, the Delaware and Texas-based coal mine developers. It concluded that the low heat value coal at Chuitna means it is not a competitive commodity, and has no export potential now and into the future. The report added that PacRim is asking the State to make a decision without offering a current and coherent  business plan.

It’s kind of amazing because a company can come forward and they can say ‘we’re going to develop this wonderful project, it’s going to create all these jobs and there will be all these revenues to the state, but you don’t see a business plan.

The precedent setting water rights decision is not mentioned on the Dept. of Natural Resources’ “News and Hot Topics” page.  A deeper dig reveals that PacRim Coal  “is currently working on updating its permit application but has given no time frame for when it will be submitted.

The decision on water rights for salmon or coal will be made jointly by Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallott. The deadline is October 6.

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. ( In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.