Worries about pesticides seeping into fishing waters and wildlife habitat has prompted five groups to file a lawsuit to block aerial-spraying on nearly 2,000 acres on Long Island, near Prince of Whales.
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The Hydaburg Cooperative Association, the city of Hydaburg, the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the Organized Village of Kake, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council filed the lawsuit against the state on Sept. 29 in Alaska State Superior Court. The suit claims the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation failed to heed overwhelming public opposition in issuing a permit on March 1 allowing Klukwan Inc. to do aerial spraying.
Klukwan, a Haines-based Native corporation, owns the property and plans to use a helicopter to spray the pesticides for suppressing red alder and salmonberry - two native species that limit the regrowth of conifer trees on the clearcut land, said Kim Stricklan, solid waste and pesticide manager for the state.
Klukwan wants to grow more conifers for future logging, she said.
Klukwan officials did not respond to phone calls Monday and Tuesday.
Stricklan said Tuesday the plan is safe for nearby fish and wildlife habitat.
"We would not have issued the permit if we had thought it wasn't safe," she said.
Long Island has long been used by residents of Hydaburg to support their subsistence way of life, Hydaburg mayor, Tom Morrison said.
"We go all around the island. Sometimes we fish on the outside and sometimes we fish on the inside. It is not that big of an island," he said. "It is right in the main thoroughfare of some of our food gathering."
Morrison said if Klukwan were to spray, he would not feel safe eating any of the food harvested from around the island.
Dave Sherman, a spokesman for SEACC, worries that permitting the plan will set a precedent for future projects.
The permit allows for four pesticides to be sprayed on the northern tip of the island. These include Arsenal, Accord, Competitor and In-Place.
Sherman said that while these have been tested separately, no tests have been done to determine how they react if used simultaneously.
Stricklan said several state experts and departments were involved with reviewing the permit and determined it was safe - particularly after changes were made from the initial application in 2005.
Klukwan Inc.'s initial permit application was rescinded last year after several groups filed a lawsuit to block the plan, concerned about pesticide residue contaminating waterways and habitat. As a result, Stricklan said a different additive was proposed in 2006, which will reduce the chance that the pesticides will drift.
Sherman remained skeptical, however, about whether restrictions included in the permit were even practical.
"I think they are saying they are supposed to do it only when it is only 7-mph-or-less winds. That is pretty much wishful thinking," he said.
Aerial spraying of pesticides in Alaska is rare, but not obsolete.
Four permits have been issued in the past 30 years, Stricklan said. Most recently, in 2005, helicopters were used to spray for potato blight in the Matanuska Valley.