An Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation official plans to hold a town hall meeting in Haines next week to address questions about Outstanding National Resource Water designations.
The issue came up locally after the Chilkat Indian Village applied for Outstanding Resource protection for the Chilkat River. Right now, Alaska does not have a procedure in place to approve or deny those designations. But it still has some area residents concerned.
DEC Division of Water Director Michelle Hale will visit Haines next week. Hale plans to hold a town hall meeting Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Chilkat Center. She says she’s received many phone calls and emails from Haines residents about the Outstanding Resource protection, and that’s why she decided to hold a meeting to explain it and field questions.
The contention around the issue has been apparent at recent meetings of the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee. Charlie Dewitt spoke out against the Outstanding Resource protection at a Friday meeting.
“I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve fished here, I’m an Alaska Native, I’ve subsistence fished and I don’t want any changes because it’s going to be the worst for all of us. You guys that love your greenie and don’t want any mines and everything else are free to have it, after I die.”
The Chilkat Indian Village asked the advisory committee to support its effort to gain Outstanding Resource protection for the river.
At the Friday meeting, Chair Tim McDonough said he wanted to compile a list of questions about the water designation, which is also called a ‘Tier 3’ protection.
“Due to a great deal of continued interest in the topic of Tier 3 and an equal amount of information circulating the community, I think it would be beneficial for the board and community to develop a list of questions for DEC to answer,” he said. “The answers would hopefully address everyone’s concerns and understanding about exactly how a Tier 3 designation of the Chilkat would affect the community and fish and game of the valley.”
McDonough responded to the concerns of Dewitt and others who are opposed to the water protection.
“I don’t believe that the information to the public is complete and I don’t think it’s accurate. I think some people on the ‘green’ side might have ideas that aren’t accurate and I think there’s some on the other side that don’t.”
The committee members and audience put together a list of questions, for example, is logging allowed near Outstanding Resource waters? What other land uses could be affected? And what impacts has the protection had in other states? They hope DEC’s Hale will be able to answer those questions at Monday’s meeting.
The Chilkat River request is one of three pending in Alaska. The applications are in limbo until the state decides on a method to evaluate the protection requests. Right now, two bills in the state legislature would give that authority to lawmakers, instead of leaving it up to DEC.
The Federal Clean Water Act mandates that states put systems in place to evaluate Outstanding Resource requests.
The purpose of the designation is to give waters of ‘exceptional recreational or ecological significance’ the highest protection under federal law. Outstanding Resource waters are protected from discharge that degrades water quality, unless it is temporary and has limited impact.
The Chilkat Indian Village Tribal Council hopes the protection would ensure the safety the river’s salmon. But critics say it could stymy economic development.