July 31st, 2013

Think About It……..                                                          July 31, 2013

The “Chuitna Coal Project” is back in the news again. The Chuitna coal fields are located in our Kenai Peninsula Borough, the west side of Cook Inlet and about 25 miles northwest of Kenai. The small communities of Tyonec and Beluga are adjacent to the coal fields.

The “Chuitna Coal Project” falls within the Susitna/Beluga Coal Field, one of the most significant coal fields in Alaska. Since at least statehood in 1959, as well as enactment of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, the entire area has been selected for their mineral, coal and oil and gas resource potential. Many of the landowners and state and local land use plans identify these areas for coal development.

The first company to apply for permitting from the state was the Diamond Shamrock Company. In fact, at their request, many years ago the Kenai Peninsula Borough saw the economic potential for coal development and voters approved bonding for a large extended dock for the loading of coal. After it was built, the coal development project was ultimately stalled due to market conditions but the dock is still there.

However, in 1988, the Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, Issued a surface coal mining permit, finding that “Diamond’s reclamation plan, including its wetlands restoration plan was sufficient to restore any disturbed area to a condition to supporting fish and wildlife.” The Federal EPA also approved the plan.

When the Trustee’s For Alaska and others challenged the DNR Permit in the courts, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld the coal mining permitting decision. The project was a go.

The current proponent of coal development is a company called Pac-Rim Coal. They are developing their baseline information, but even though they have not even submitted permit applications, the Trustee’s for Alaska, and others, in 2007 and in 2012, have submitted a new petition to the DNR to “have the entire Chuitna watershed be deemed unsuitable for surface coal mining activities.

After over five years and eight months of study and consideration, DNR has, just this past week, again denied the petition stating that mining efforts in the area “will not necessarily affect the environment in such a manner to justify a prohibition of all coal mining.” A DNR spokesman reminded folks that this is not a decision to let Pac-Rim go forward. That makes a lot of sense. Remember that Pac-Rim Coal has not even applied for any of the many state and federal permits that will be required, by law, before and if, any permit it granted. They plan to do that next year.

For our Alaskan economy and all the new jobs the Chuitna Coal Project would create one would hope that surface coal mining would be approved, however, we must be absolutely sure that the entire Chuitna watershed area will be restored, to an environmentally sound condition that supports fish and wildlife, as it has in the past.

Think About It!     John C. Davis

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