Murkowski Sees “Bad Math” In Cook Inlet Critical Habitat Decision

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Lisa Murkowski says today’s designation of over 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as Critical Habitat is far costlier than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) figures contend. NOAA announced today it is designating two areas of Alaska’s Cook Inlet as critical habitat for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale, while exempting the Port of Anchorage and Eagle River Flats Range.

“I understand the Beluga habitat needs protection, but I have serious concerns with NOAA’s figures to justify it,” said Sen. Murkowski. The costs involved are 100 times higher than they’re estimating. Beyond their bad math, I remain extremely concerned the critical habitat designation will lead to something all too common to Alaska: more delays in permitting, construction and protracted litigation.”

Scientists estimate there are less than 350 Cook Inlet beluga whales left in the wild – a distinct population segment listed as endangered in October 2008. The critical habitat comprises 3,016 square miles (7,809 square kilometers) of marine and estuarine environments considered by scientists to be essential for the whales’ survival.

NOAA’s impact cost estimates average out to $364,000 over the next decade.  But an independent economic analysis prepared for the Resource Development Council put the cost of varying economic scenarios between $39 million and $400 million per year.

The designation of more than one-third of Cook Inlet as Critical Habitat includes all of Anchorage and Mat-Su Borough’s tidal waters, extending south in Cook Inlet past the city of Kenai.  The designation also includes areas across the inlet from the Kenai Peninsula and parts of Kachemak Bay.

The Port of Anchorage and Eagle River Flats Range were excluded from Critical Habitat for reasons of national security.  To this Senator Murkowski commented, “I am pleased that NOAA excluded these areas under section 4 (b) (2) of the ESA recognizing their vital role in the national security of the United States.”