And Now, a Message from Gov. Sean Parnell
Governor Parnell and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, headed up by Daniel Sullivan, rejected a petition on Friday filed by local citizens seeking to protect wild Alaska salmon streams from coal strip mining in Upper Cook Inlet. And by Upper Cook Inlet, I mean directly across from Anchorage in the villages of Tyonek and Beluga.
The massive Chuitna Coal project would need to drain wetlands, and completely remove productive salmon streams which are home to all five species of Alaskan salmon in a totally unprecedented act that would make all salmon streams in the state vulnerable to the bulldozer in the name of “resource development.”
“This is a horrible precedent for Alaska wild salmon and the countless families they support. PacRim Coal’s mining plans would remove miles and miles of wild Alaska salmon streams to a depth of over 300 feet,” said Judy Heilman, Chuitna Citizens Coalition President. “The Alaska Department of Fish and Game calls the tributaries PacRim would remove as important to salmon, yet the state refuses to formally protect our wild salmon streams.”
Back in January of 2010 the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper submitted a petition to the state seeking protective buffers to protect the area directly around the Chuitna River and its tributaries under the Alaska Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act. This petition did not even seek to ban coal mining in the area, this was a move simply to say no to coal strip mining within salmon streams themselves. Similar buffers are standard for logging operations and in municipal development plans, and would not have affected the vast area of PacRim’s lease area. Even this minimum basic respect for fishing rights was just too much for the Parnell administration, apparently.
“It’s a sad day when Governor Parnell’s policies protect a Delaware corporation’s profits over our wild Cook Inlet salmon runs and the Alaskan families salmon support” said Terry Jorgensen, a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman and founding member of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. “DNR’s rejection clearly illustrates the State’s failure to protect our wild salmon runs. The Governor must understand the importance of salmon to Alaskans, yet his policies are leading us down the same path that led to the demise of salmon runs around the world.”
Dr. Margaret Palmer, the Director of the National Science Foundation’s Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center unambiguously told Alaska Senate Committee members that PacRim’s mining plan will destroy 11 miles of salmon streams and that these impacts will be irreversible. Dr. Palmer, who is an expert in stream restoration with a long history dealing with impacts of surface mining on streams, went on to say, “Large scale failure at Chuitna is inevitable.”
And don’t believe that what happens way over on the “other” side of the Inlet doesn’t affect Anchorage, or areas north. If this mining effort is successful, the price for low-grade coal for China is not only blatant destruction of salmon streams, but seven million gallons of mine waste every day, pouring into the Cook Inlet watershed. Salmon for the commercial, subsistence and sport fisheries of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley will be swimming to your table through a toxic soup of contamination, and mine sludge – assuming they get to your table at all.
“Governor Parnell has said on several occasions he would ‘never trade one resource for another,’ but that’s exactly what he’s doing by allowing strip mining in our salmon streams,” said Heilman. “Time and again the Parnell administration has refused to protect our salmon and our way of life. It’s time for Alaskans to stand up for the salmon we all depend on.”
There’s an old saying that when someone tells you who they are, believe them. Sean Parnell has always sided with multinational corporations, irresponsible developers and development plans. Once a lobbyist for fossil fuels, always a lobbyist for fossil fuels. Never has Parnell stood with the citizens who rely on clean water, and healthy fish for their livelihoods, or their subsistence.
Even if you never set foot in Beluga, or Tyonek, this affects all Alaskans. Once a project gets the green light to irreversibly destroy prime salmon streams, others will follow – of that you can be sure. We need new leadership in this state – an administration that respects its people, and its greatest renewable resource.
When I attended a hearing in the Native village of Tyonek, a resident elder there spoke beautifully and from the heart about what PacRim Coal and Governor Parnell are willing to sacrifice to get cheap, poor-quality coal to sell to China. They are willing to sell Alaska’s soul, and its salmon down the river.