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NOAA Extends Beluga Public Comment Period 30 Days

Alaska Delegation request for more time granted

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Jan. 7 announced it is extending the public comment period on the proposed designation of critical habitat for the Cook Inlet Beluga whale by 30 days. The move follows a letter signed by Alaska Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young asking for the extension.

"I am pleased to see NOAA has taken our request seriously and will grant Alaskans and other interested parties more time to comment on this important issue," Begich said. "I remain concerned of the negative impact the designation could have on the area as the development of Cook Inlet is necessary for job creation and the overall strength and stability of our economy."

In early December, NOAA announced its proposal to establish 3,000 square miles in Cook Inlet as critical habitat for the beluga whale population, with a public comment period ending Feb. 1, 2010. On Dec. 23, the Alaska Congressional Delegation wrote NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco a letter asking for a minimum of 30 extra days for public comment, noting the proposed designation came out during the holiday season when many Alaskans were focused on family and not public policy.

"We understand NOAA's responsibility to conserve and recover this species and appreciate your work to stay within the statutory time lines for determining critical habitat. In doing so, however, we are concerned about taking such action without adequate analysis of the economic and national security consequences of this designation," the letter states.

Sen. Begich has previously stated his concern that NOAA chose not to address the Port of Anchorage's request for an exemption from the designation due to the Port's strategic and economic  importance.

"I strongly urge NOAA to revaluate the Port's request in the final designation. Also troubling is the potential impact this action could have on military deployments through the Port of Anchorage, which are vital for our nation's defense," Begich added.

The proposed rule and other materials relating to the proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the Cook Inlet beluga whale can be found at: http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/ The new comment deadline is March 3, 2010.

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