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Rep. Gara to State: Permit Cannot Ignore Destruction of Salmon Stream

Gara calls on state to scrap flawed ruling that salmon and trout stream can be “rebuilt”

Today, Representative Les Gara called on the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reverse its ruling that concluded the proposed Chuitna coal project is consistent with the state’s “Unsuitable Lands” law. 

“Their proposal states they will completely remove at least 11 miles of wild salmon spawning and rearing habitat for a period of 25 years; digging down at least 300 feet below the streambed, thereby destroying not only the streambed but also the underlying functions that support a salmon stream and permanently impacting the water quality for all downstream reaches of the Chuitna,” said Rep. Gara, an avid fisherman and fishing writer.

In a February 2 letter to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Rep. Gara states, “I would ask you to fully review the scientific realities of the actual proposal PacRim has made, and not disregard them under the theory that an alternative plan may come forward in the future.”

In 2007 PacRim, a Delaware coal company, applied for permits to operate a surface coal mine that would require the company to dredge and destroy 11 miles of the Chuitna River, one of Cook Inlet’s best wild salmon streams located next to the Village of Tyonek.  Despite PacRim stating that it will dredge the streambed and dig down 300 feet below the salmon stream it is removing, DNR claimed it did not consider the effects of “surface coal mining” in determining whether the prevention of and repair of damage to this fishing stream is “feasible.” 

“In concluding the project was legal, the state refused to consider the actual proposal – to dredge 11 miles of salmon stream and dig 300 feet below the salmon stream bed.  The state doesn’t get to bury the obvious in order to justify burying a salmon stream,” said Gara.

In an attempt to justify not considering that dredging “will destroy 11 miles of one of the best king salmon streams in the State of Alaska” (Decision P. 6.), the administration argues that perhaps a different project might be considered before the final permits are granted.

“DNR was required by law to rule on the actual project being proposed, not a mythical one that might appear in the future,” said Rep. Gara.  “The current project is a salmon disaster, and should have been rejected.” 

“This project to destroy a wild salmon and trout stream is still moving forward only because the administration decided to ignore the most relevant facts,” said Gara. “DNR only found restoration of this stream was feasible because they disregarded PacRim’s stated plans – to dredge 11 miles of Middle Fork, a major tributary of the Chuitna.”  

“The Commissioner’s decision buries the facts and justifies the destruction of the Chuitna River that our families have relied on for generations. It cannot be denied that PacRim coal and the Mental Health Trust want to destroy 11 miles of healthy salmon tributaries to provide coal to China,” said Frank Standifer III, President of the Native Village of Tyonek.

“My greatest concern is the scope of the damage done to the waterway, riparian zone, and ground which would take several lifetimes to bring back to its current state.  Trading coal exports for in-state fisheries is poor policy,” said Bob Churchill, former president of the Alaska Flyfishers Association and member of the Alaska Board of Game.

A number of local citizen groups oppose PacRim’s proposal including the Native Village of Tyonek, who subsistence fish the Chuitna River; United Fishermen of Alaska; the Anchorage and Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committees; and the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association.

Read Rep. Gara’s letter to DNR: http://akdemocrats.org/gara/020212_Letter_to_Comr_Sullivan_re_Chuitna.pdf

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