Decision Due in Salmon Stream Water Fight

Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources must decide by Oct.
6 whether to approve a water reservation application sought by a citizens group
for an in-stream flow reservation in salmon stream habitat that could potentially
be strip-mined.
The water reservation was applied for by the Chuitna
Citizens Coalition, which opposes plans of Delaware-based PacRim Coal LP to mine
an area some 45 miles southwest of Anchorage in Upper Cook Inlet known as the
Beluga Coal Fields.
Although PacRim still lacks the permits needed to proceed,
the company’s legal counsel, Eric Fjelstad, said Aug. 21 that DNR should not
allow private citizens “to take over a critical piece of the permitting
“You cannot do a project in this state without impacting
fish habitat,” he said. “It is critical that the state find a way to do these
sorts of projects.”
Fjelstad told the panel from DNR’s Division of Mining, Land
and Water Resources Section that there were economic benefits to the project. The
Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Alaska Miners Association, the Council of
Alaska Producers and the Resource Development Council for Alaska also urged DNR
to consider all uses for the water rather than grant the in-stream flow
reservation to the citizens group.
But Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, a
nonprofit entity in Homer that advocates for clean water and healthy fish
habitat, supported the Citizens Coalition request.
Shavelson said the proposed water reservations would have
positive effects on the state’s economy, fish and game resources, recreational
opportunities and the public health in the Chuitna watershed and Upper Cook Inlet.
“As Alaskans we recognize that while the value of our
natural resources includes a market component, there are also a wide range of
economic benefits associated with non-market goods and services,” he said,
including the value Alaskans place on the sustainability of their wild salmon
“All we are asking is to keep the water in the streams so
everyone can use it, he said.

“I can imagine Alaska without coal. I cannot imagine Alaska
without salmon. Alaska is a salmon state. I think it defines who we are as