Assembly rejects mixing zone proposal

Supporters say new regs for fish streams to help Valdez; critics say rest of the state will pay for it

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Juneau Assembly on Monday unanimously voted to oppose the state's proposal to allow pollution mixing zones in fish spawning streams.

"It's an important statewide issue," Vice Mayor Randy Wanamaker said.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation needs to consider the potential effect of additional pollution in spawning streams on commercial fishermen, Wanamaker said. The state should hold more hearings on the proposal, he said.

The state held one public hearing on its amended plan to lift the current prohibition on mixing zones in spawning streams. It was in Anchorage earlier this month.

The department should also extend the public comment period until the end of January, Wanamaker said.

The comment period now ends Dec. 19.

Mixing zones are areas in a water body where an elevated amount of pollution is allowed to dilute to acceptable levels by mixing with clean water.

The state recently tightened its proposal, but many Juneau fishermen argue that the prohibition is necessary for consumers to maintain high confidence in Alaska's clean water and healthy fish populations.

The Assembly's decision followed a 30-minute public hearing and a defense of the proposal by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

All nine residents who testified in the public hearing spoke out against the state proposal.

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council organizer Kat Hall testified that the state hasn't completed an economic analysis of who would benefit and who would suffer from mixing zones.

The proposal could seriously undermine fishermen's efforts to market their salmon as pristine, Hall and others stated in their testimony. Hall noted that Juneau has become a more significant fishing port in recent years.

A Department of Environmental Conservation official said lifting the prohibition could help the city of Valdez, where salmon have colonized a ditch from a wastewater treatment plant.

Oceana Pacific regional vice president Jim Ayers said the state shouldn't "create universal trauma" to fix a local problem, such as the one in Valdez.

Others have suggested addressing the Valdez ditch situation by reclassifying the ditch so it isn't considered a stream.

DEC officials said Monday night that they would consider Juneau's request for an extended comment period.

The city had previously asked for a public hearing to be held in Juneau but DEC declined.

When Assembly member David Stone asked DEC Division of Water Director Lynn Kent why the state wanted to lift the mixing zone prohibition, she said that DEC staff recommended it.

She cited the Valdez ditch, saying it would cost the city an estimated $2 million to pipe the wastewater to salt water.

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