Homer Alaska - Letters

Story last updated at 5:20 PM on Wednesday, November 9, 2011

State must protect its resources

I must express my deep disappointment with the state of Alaska for rejecting a petition seeking to protect salmon streams from coal strip mining in the Chuitna River watershed that feeds into Upper Cook Inlet.

Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan ruled late last month that Delaware-based PacRim Coal LP, which wants to strip mine coal to ship to China, has demonstrated that it is "technologically feasible" to re-establish the salmon streams after mining is done a quarter century or more from now. The ruling doesn't amount to a mining permit, but it sure is a long step in that direction.

First, I think the idea that PacRim can rebuild a salmon stream is bunkum. As others have pointed out, were they able to do so they would be making millions rebuilding salmon streams in Washington, Oregon and California.

Are they? Didn't think so.

If PacRim's plans are realized, it will be the first time Alaska has permitted destruction of salmon spawning streams in the interests of short-term mining gain. This makes no sense and ought to be stopped.

It will be an uphill battle. The playing field is rigged in favor of big money and the Department of Natural Resources appears willing to bend over backwards to accommodate corporations like PacRim that seek nothing but profit. They will argue that the state needs the revenue and PacRim will create Alaska jobs. In my opinion, it isn't worth it. Altogether, it's an equation wholly out of balance, especially considering that the annual salmon production from the Chuitna River and its tributaries contributes to Cook Inlet's existing multi-billion dollar renewable fishing industry.

Are we really so desperate as to be willing to permit destruction of 11 miles of viable habitat so some Outside multimillionaires can drain still more cash from Alaska while contributing to China's destruction of the atmosphere?

Based on weak existing regulations, state natural resources officials ultimately may determine that PacRim's strip mine should proceed. That might be "legal," but such a decision would be grotesquely erroneous, even morally wrong.

Gov. Sean Parnell has said on more than one occasion that he would not trade one resource for another. Yet it now appears his administration is prepared to do just that. Parnell's promises aren't worth the breath they took to pronounce.

It is clearly going to be up to us to pressure the state to reject this ill-conceived project. At some point, somewhere, the state must be forced to come down on the side of the environment, profit be damned. There is still time to make that happen, but it will take concerted effort by Alaskans who value our natural fisheries resources more than some corporation's bottom line.

Hal Spence