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Fishermen should have priority with DNR

Posted: November 7, 2013 - 8:23am

I am concerned about the Parnell Administration’s refusal to process fishermen’s water rights applications, using the excuse that they didn’t have enough staff. Under former Commissioner Dan Sullivan, DNR worked hard to help PacRim develop Chuitna for a millionaire from Texas. The state should put the same effort into processing Alaska fishermen’s water reservation applications. Coastal communities like Homer depend on these water reservations for the health of our fisheries and local economy.

The Department of Natural Resources has refused to process fishermen’s water rights permits for over four years, claiming it didn’t have enough staff. Yet during the same time period, the Parnell Administration had no trouble finding staff to sue Bella Hammond and Vic Fischer — Alaska icons — for $1 million. As the court found, DNR has a statutory responsibility to process water rights applications submitted by Alaskans, and it is absurd to suggest that the state doesn’t have the staff to do so.

The Department of Natural Resources processed dozens of permits for Pebble mine without delay, even while Pebble violated conditions of permits they already had. DNR and Dan Sullivan produced fancy presentations urging the legislation to pass HB 77, a bill which would let the DNR Commissioner override any other state law to permit projects like Pebble and Chuitna. DNR had staff time to plan press events like a “federal overreach” conference. Under these circumstances, it simply isn’t believable that DNR didn’t have time to process water rights applications submitted by Alaska fishermen.

Fishermen and residents of Cook Inlet have submitted water rights permits known as “water reservations” for the purpose of protecting Chuitna’s salmon run. The Chuitna is an important part of Cook Inlet’s vibrant fishery. All five species of salmon spawn in the Chuitna, and what happens in the Chuitna will have a direct impact on fishermen who are based throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Cook Inlet residents and fishermen have been fighting this battle for years. When Dan Sullivan’s DNR ignored Alaskans’ water rights applications, Chuitna advocates sued and won in court. Even while refusing to process fishermen’s applications, Sullivan was spearheading radical legislation (HB 77) which would give the DNR Commissioner unprecedented authority to green light projects like Pebble and Chuitna. With Sullivan running for Senate, it is unfortunate to see that DNR continues to push for mining through the Chuitna River and for legislation which would expedite its approval.

The Parnell Administration needs to get its priorities straight. Alaska fishermen should be at the front of the line at DNR, not Outside corporations. We should put Alaska fisheries first, not sacrifice them for short-sighted projects that could damage Alaska’s largest private sector employer. Our fisheries can be a sustainable growth industry for Alaska, as long as Sean Parnell isn’t permitted to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

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