By Mallory Peebles
Channel 2 News
8:44 PM AKDT, March 13, 2013
Two local organizations filed a petition Wednesday with the Department of Fish and Game seeking to ban coal strip mining through Alaska salmon streams.
Chuitna Citizens Coalition member Ron Burnett said, “We don't think that’s right. We think we should keep the right to say 'yay or nay' on a project that could harm, especially harm, a renewable resource like fish.”
The focus of the petition is aimed at the Chuitna mine project, which is already seven years into its permitting to begin operations. According to petitioners, the Chuitna mine would disturb Middle Creek and the fish that spawn in it.
"Middle creek is a very populated. It's a small stream but it's very populated and it's about 14 miles long and they want to go through 11 miles of it," said Burnett.
Chutina Coal Mine project manager Dan Graham said they have been conducting research on how to protect the fishery during and after their mining operation. Graham says for four consecutive years, the fish of Middle Creek were counted through a weir project. Graham says the majority of those fish were Coho salmon.
“At the widest place it's about 10-feet-wide and in a lot of places it's about two to three-feet wide. For a lot of those tributaries, it's not like we're mining through a main river system but we're still very cognizant of the habitat that provides,” said Graham.
Graham says, "We've done a lot of research where that habitat cannot only be protected, but created where there is no habitat."
Graham says following the anticipated 25-year mining operation they would establish man-made creeks to simulate the ones disturbed.
Still, conservationists like Burnett say that's not good enough, and are hoping their petition prevents this operation and others like it from ever breaking ground.
"Alaska is the last frontier, there's very few places like it and we should cherish it,” said Burnett.
Randy Bates with the Department of Fish and Game says they expect to have a response to the petition within two to three weeks.
Channel 2's Jessica Ridgway contributed to this story.
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