Appeals filed in water rights case

JUNEAU (AP) — Business and industry groups have appealed a state agency decision to grant a water reservation to conservationists who want to protect fish from the potential development of a coal mine in southcentral Alaska.

Earlier this month, the Department of Natural Resources’ Water Resources Section approved one of three water reservation applications from the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. The approved application was for a section of water outside boundaries of the mine plan that PacRim Coal is pursuing.

As part of that decision, it was determined that granting the requested reservations within the mine-site boundaries “likely would preclude the mine project from moving forward.”

The appeals filed object to the granting of the sole reservation, which, according to the department, would be the first time the state has awarded a water reservation on state waters to a private group.

PacRim and business and industry groups were among those filing appeals to Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers. The state Department of Law also appealed that decision on behalf of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Lands Office. The reservation falls within trust-held lands. The decision’s analysis is arbitrary and rests on an erroneous interpretation of the water reservation law, the letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General Dario Borghesan, said.

The Chuitna Citizens Coalition did not appeal. Ron Burnett, a founding member of the coalition, said the group wanted to see how industry would respond. “Big business always claims that they care. Let’s see if they really care,” he said of his group’s approach.

In its appeal, PacRim argued, in part, that the citizens’ coalition did not demonstrate that a need exists for a reservation and that the department’s analysis was flawed.

Marleanna Hall, executive director of the Resource Development Council, said the group opposes designating public resources to private individuals.

The council “reiterates concerns that anti-development groups will use this action as a new tool to stop projects, or at a minimum, introduce significant uncertainty and delay, chilling Alaska’s business climate,” Hall wrote.

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