The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation should heed the advice of a chorus of Cook Inlet voices and abandon plans to allow wastewater to be discharged into certain fish spawning areas.
It's just a bad idea.
Although DEC has said that the mixing zones would be allowed only in areas "where there will be no adverse effect on the capability of an area to support fish spawning, rearing or incubation," the change damages Alaska's clean, pristine image, not to mention years of effort to market the state's wild salmon.
Comments of others opposed to the change bear repeating:
From a resolution passed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly earlier this month: "... (T)he Kenai Peninsula Borough has provided significant support to the Cook Inlet Salmon Branding program, which is largely dependent upon the ability to market Cook Inlet wild salmon, and ... allowing mixing zones in anadromous fishing spawning areas would impair the efforts of Cook Inlet sport and commercial fishers and processors to promote Cook Inlet wild salmon as clean, fresh and healthy."
From a resolution passed by the city of Homer in September: "... Salmon health, salmon habitat and salmon marketing will suffer under the Murkowski Administration's proposal."
From Mark Powell, president of the Kenai Wild salmon branding program: "The standards being reduced could destroy our brand. ... It smells like a rotten red to me."
From a letter by Michael Munger, executive director of the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council: "The revisions to state mixing zone regulations ... (have) the potential to nullify years' worth of diligent work by allowing for the intentional pollution of our priceless salmon streams by industrial effluents."
From Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inlet Keeper: "Salmon marketing hinges largely on consumer perceptions, and consumers have rightly come to expect a superior product from Alaska vendors. The Murkowski administration's new proposal, however, will unravel these important advances by tainting Alaska's wild salmon with a new label ... a pollution label."
From assembly member Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge: "There is concern that allowing mixing zones in anadromous streams may have unforeseen physical results on the fish, as well as negative impacts on the marketability of Alaska's wild seafood."
The city of Soldotna has suggested a change in the regulations that does make sense: A provision should be added to allow existing permits to be renewed if fish are found to be spawning in mixing areas where there was no previous spawning.
Beyond that, the current ban on mixing zones in spawning areas is justified.
DEC has said that the proposed changes allow for protecting fish in several ways:
An applicant for a mixing zone must demonstrate no adverse affect to the spawning area;
DEC would consult on spawning areas with the Department of Natural Resources Office of Management and Permitting and the Department of Fish and Game's Sport Fish Division; and
Each permit with a mixing zone would have a public comment period.
Here's why that's not good enough. While the change may help applicants for a mixing zone in a spawning area, it would hurt those who depend on Alaska's salmon whether they are commercial, sport or personal-use fishers. There's no reason to hurt the considerable work that's been done to protect the state's natural resources, including its salmon and salmon habitat. Why open the door to potential environmental degradation when there's no need to do so?
And assuming DEC's safeguards protect Alaska's fish, they would not protect Alaska's image. The changes have the potential to hurt the state's efforts to market itself as a clean, wild tourist destination.
The argument that all states allow for mixing zones under the Clean Water Act holds no water here. In fact, it should be considered a reason not to make changes in what is now allowed. Alaska should be the role model that other states follow when it comes to environmental protection and economic development not vice versa. The state might as well allow fish farming and forget about developing its tourism industry if it's going to do things like every other state does them.
Finally, DEC should be reminded that a healthy environment is one of the key building blocks to a healthy economy. Two of Alaska's biggest industries fishing and tourism depend on Alaska going the extra mile to protect the environment.
The bottom line is: Preventing pollution is in the state's best interest economically. DEC should drop its plans to allow wastewater to be discharged in certain fish spawning areas. It just doesn't make sense or cents.
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