State officials eye Fairbanks for new hatchery site

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) State officials are looking at Fairbanks as a possible site of a new sport-fish hatchery because of the expected closure of two hatcheries in Anchorage.

A Fairbanks biologist has set up a test hatchery with federal funds aimed at developing alternatives.

Cal Skaugstad's project will determine whether well water without treatment at the site has too much iron to raise fish. The answer will affect the cost of the final project.

In the meantime, Gov. Frank Murkowski's office has requested another $20 million in federal money beside the $1.5 million approved by Congress in January.

State officials are hoping for success because the hatcheries in Anchorage are losing their heat sources: power generators at Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The state is using some of the $1.5 million Congress provided earlier this year to install a boiler at the Fort Richardson plant, but it will allow only a fraction of the production, said Jeff Milton, regional hatchery supervisor in Anchorage.

A state hatchery at Clear Air Force Station, south of Nenana, closed several years ago.

The two Anchorage hatcheries pump out about 4 million fish a year, Milton said. The fish go to lakes, such as Ballaine and Harding in the Fairbanks area, as well as rivers elsewhere. About 80 percent of the rainbow trout caught in the state start as hatchery fish, as do 25 percent of the southcentral Alaska kings caught on sporting gear, Milton said.

Skaugstad said a new hatchery attached to the Aurora Energy plant in Fairbanks could take over those duties.

A hatchery requires a lot of water, but Skaugstad said a new well could tap into the enormous Tanana River basin aquifer that flows under the city. A single Golden Heart Utilities well nearby produces up to 4,000 gallons per minute, Skaugstad said.

''The aquifer we have up here is fantastic,'' he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''We have more water than we know what to do with. We have more heat than we know what to do with.''

The test hatchery will investigate how iron levels in the water affect rainbow trout. The full hatchery's price depends on whether iron must be removed and how long the fish are held.

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