The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has kicked off a short, 15-day comment period for people to weigh in on the proposed Chuitna coal mine across Cook Inlet that would result in a strip mine through the Chuitna watershed.

The mine is being proposed by PacRim, a Delaware corporation that wants to mine coal to ship to China and other developing Asian markets. 

The project faces strong opposition from the villages of Beluga and Tyonek which are close to the proposed mine, and are concerned about the effects on the commercial setnet operations that support their residents.

The total mine lease area covers 57 miles of streams that support all five species of salmon and would affect 45 percent of the Chuitna watershed, stripping much of it down to bedrock.

PacRim has stated that it expects to be able to restore the streams to pre-mine condition, something heavily disputed by fishery scientists and environmentalists.

The comment period is specifically seeking input about the Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition’s instream flow application, which is a water right that protects specific instream water uses, such as fish spawning or recreation. It sets aside the water necessary for these activities and keeps later water users from appropriating water that may affect the in-stream activity.

The state already has processed more than100 applications by PacRim to remove water from those streams, and it took a court case to get DNR to move on CCC’s application. 

“We think it’s a fairly stark choice between wild, healthy Alaska salmon or coal for China,” said Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, adding the precedent of the mine is frightening

“If you can mine through a salmon stream in upper Cook Inlet, you can do it anywhere,” he said.

Granting the instream flow protection to CCC does not necessarily kill the mine project, Shavelson said.

“It just means that Chuitna Citizens would hold that right, and if the state sought at some later date to revoke that right, they could,” after going through another public interest determination.  

More information about the mine can be found at http://chuitna.org/. 

Comments can be sent to David Schade, DNR Chief of Water Resources Section, at david.w.schade@alaska.gov, and/or Governor Bill Walker at bill.walker@alaska.gov. 

Comments must be received by March 10. 

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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