Chuitna Water Reservation Decision

Photo courtesy oatsy40, Flickr, July 13, 2013

Alaska DNR released its determination on the water reservation requests for the Chuitna carefully crafted to obstruct the construction and operation of PacRim’s proposed coal mine. The determination was signed on October 6, 2015 and can be found at the following links. The short story is that DNR tossed the two most restrictive reservations while granting the least restrictive.

The 47-page document makes interesting reading, especially when it comes to the meat of the decision, protection of the resource, the Sainted Salmon. On page 33, DNR analyzes “The effect of the economic activities resulting from the proposed reservation.” Following some boilerplate on the value of commercial and sport fishing to Alaska, they try to determine exactly how many coho spawn in Middle Creek. Interestingly enough, the Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition and Cookinlet Keeper did not respond to DNR requests for economic valuation data.

Instead, DNR made an estimate of the number of fish and total economic value which is very close to what I have estimated for the last year – about 150 coho a year yielding some $9,000 of salmon in the freezer yearly. DNR estimates a return range worth $1,460 - $10,600 yearly.

Additionally, none of the water reservation requestors actually fish in Middle Creek. None were able to present any information about new economic activity that would result should the reservations be granted. Of course during hearings, they were all in high dudgeon about the value of the Middle Creek fishery and a lot of arm-waving ensued. But DNR is constrained by state law to make its determination on actual economic value. The requestors’ never supplied any – likely because none exist, and DNR determined that the actual value of the fishery was extremely limited.

The assessment then goes into an analysis of economic value of the mine. DNR determined that the two larger water reservations within the mine boundaries would preclude the project from going forward – which is the whole point of the exercise by CCC and Cookinlet Keeper.

I had briefly known that the Mental Health Trust (AMHTA) was the landowner but did not explore the ramifications of that ownership. DNR finds that granting a reservation that precludes the mine would cause a $300 million loss of revenue to the Trust and its 72,000 current beneficiaries. Essentially, the greens are putting the welfare of 150 fish caught yearly against 72,000 Alaskans with disabilities, elderly, and with mental health difficulties. I cannot think of a more callous or ugly worldview than that (outside of Planned Parenthood harvesting organs for sale from live babies).

The final argument made by PacRim and the Trust (AMHTA) is that the state and federal permitting process must be allowed to continue to its conclusion. Granting the two larger reservations would preemptively stop that process.
Following the process, DNR granted a reservation of water flows for the lower 1.4 miles of Middle Creek above its confluence with the Chuitna, least harmful to the overall project. While this is not a complete win, it is at least a step.

The downside is that DNR has just rewarded rank obstructionism by local and out of state greens opposed to mining, which cannot end well for our future. As of this writing, it appears that the PacRim mine west of Tyonek is still alive and maybe even kicking.