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Taku River report released to criticism

Posted: March 11, 2012 - 12:04am
Neil McKinnon, cabin owner on the Taku River, testifies to the Taku River Fact-Finding Task Force on Saturday.  McKinnon asked the task force to fill in gaps in data regarding the dynamic changes in the river's bed, among other issues he considered oversights. The task force was called for by Juneau's legislative delegation of Rep. Cathy Muñoz, Rep. Beth Kerttula and Sen. Dennis Egan in response to potential barging to the Tulsequah Chief Mine on the Taku River.  Russell Stigall / Juneau Empire
Russell Stigall / Juneau Empire
Neil McKinnon, cabin owner on the Taku River, testifies to the Taku River Fact-Finding Task Force on Saturday. McKinnon asked the task force to fill in gaps in data regarding the dynamic changes in the river's bed, among other issues he considered oversights. The task force was called for by Juneau's legislative delegation of Rep. Cathy Muñoz, Rep. Beth Kerttula and Sen. Dennis Egan in response to potential barging to the Tulsequah Chief Mine on the Taku River.

The Taku River Task Force released its draft report for public comment Saturday morning. Though the effort was generally regarded as worthwhile, many public comments pointed out places the task force could hone its draft report.

“It’s all about the river,” Paula Terrel, fisherman and organizer for Rivers Without Borders said. The purpose of the Taku River Task Force “is to focus on habitat protection,” she said.

Public comments at Saturday’s meeting asked the task force to make gaps in information more apparent, beef up information on the land creatures in the Taku area, take into account other mines proposed on the river and address what were called “factual inaccuracies” in the report. Others testified the report needed to improve basic definitions such as what constitutes the “lower” Taku River.

Dale Kelley, executive director for the Alaska Trollers Association, said her organization originally supported the task force’s looking at a range of options to protect the fisheries associated with the Taku.

“We have been concerned about the prospect of reopening large scale mining on the river,” Kelly said. She said the Trollers expected the task force to supply “what array of options may be available to protect the Taku.”

“I find the report a difficult read, (with) editing (needed) not only for readability but for factual inaccuracies,” she said.

The task force needs to conduct a gap analysis, Kelly said. “There are things that were not analyzed,” Kelly said. It did not look to see if a lack of an Alaska coastal zone management plan might have an effect, she said as an example.

Others agreed the report needed work.

“Take the time and make it factual and accurate,” Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Boarders said.

Neil McKinnon, a cabin owner on the Taku River testified to his decades of experience living on the river. He asked the Taku River Task Force to fill in gaps in data regarding the dynamic changes in the river's bed, among other issues he considered oversights.

Long-time Taku resident Earl Champion said the task force should know the unique limitations and geography of the Taku River area.

There is limited communication on the river, Champion said. Locals get inconsistent satellite phone service or Internet via satellite dish. “There is no cell phone service," Champion said.

He would like the report to address habitat for land animals as well as fish.

The task force was sponsored by Juneau’s legislative delegation, Sen. Dennis Egan and Reps. Beth Kerttula and Cathy Muñoz. Its goals are to review biological health and status regarding Taku River fish stocks, habitat, and game resources; investigate responsibility among Alaska departments of Fish & Game, Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Coast Guard “for monitoring industrial vessel traffic on the river and determin(ing) if industrial vessel safety and spill response requirements are appropriately met,” according to the report. Lastly the task force is to find which state and federal statutes and regulations affect the Taku.

The next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday. The location to be announced.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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