There has been a lot of controversy about the role the Habitat Division (now part of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources) and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have in permitting large mine proposals. It is no small issue. Mines have a horrendous track record of polluting streams, and the fishing industry is one of our most precious resources.
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The Taku River is Southeast Alaska's best salmon river. It provides income for hundreds of commercial fishermen. When sport fishermen catch a big king or coho around Juneau, chances are it is a Taku fish. Recently, Federal and Alaska agencies notified the mining company proposing to re-open the Tulsequah Chief Mine that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about its proposal to run a hovercraft-like barge and amphibious tug boat up the Taku River.
Fish and Game has strong concerns about the effect these vehicles might have on salmon habitat. These space-age vehicles have never been tested on a river like the Taku, and Fish and Game's concerns should be taken as a strong signal that the agencies should not permit this plan unless the company can prove without a doubt that the operations won't hurt our fish.
In a May 10 Juneau Empire story, Gov. Sarah Palin is quoted as saying she will make sure the Alaska agencies are on top of the Tulsequah issue and stated, "Don't let us mess that up."
If Palin wants to stand true to these statements, she should ensure that Habitat and Fish and Game will have the appropriate controls to say no to a proposal, such as this hover-barge scheme, that puts our fisheries at risk. Fish need to come first on the Taku River.