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Vol. 12, No. 30 Week of July 29, 2007
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

MINING NEWS: Coal petition lacks merit, DNR rules

Environmental coalition told it failed to prove allegations that entire Chuitna River watershed could be harmed by coal mining

Sarah Hurst

For Mining News

Alaska’s commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, Tom Irwin, has rejected a petition to designate the Chuitna River watershed as unsuitable for coal mining. The petition was filed by non-profit law firm Trustees for Alaska on behalf of a group of people including the Chuitna Citizens NO-COALition, the Alaska Center for the Environment and Alaskans for Responsible Mining, who had hoped to block the planned Chuitna coal project that is being developed in the area.

The petition includes lands exempt from the petition review process, is incomplete, and is without merit, Irwin wrote in his 15-page decision July 16. The area that the petitioners attempted to delineate covered approximately 150 square miles or 96,000 acres of land owned by various private and public entities such as the State of Alaska, the Mental Health Trust, Tyonek Native Corp., CIRI (the Cook Inlet Native corporation) and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Two land-use plans identify and designate state land in the Chuitna area for coal development, and the planning processes for these area plans were subject to public review and comment, Irwin wrote. PacRim’s coal leases in the petitioned area total approximately 20,570 acres, and Beluga Coal Co. — a joint venture between Barrick Gold and CIRI — also owns 17,690 acres of coal leases in the area.

Some of leases already contested

Additionally, Trustees for Alaska and the Alaska Center for the Environment already contested a permit for coal development on some of the leases in a 1992 case heard by the Alaska Supreme Court. These leases are known as Logical Mining Unit 1 or LMU-1 and are now held by PacRim. The Supreme Court upheld many of the decisions underpinning the permit and ordered DNR to further consider certain aspects of it, including the size of the reclamation bond.

Because of that case, and the fact that Trustees for Alaska and the Alaska Center for the Environment already had the opportunity to comment on the permit and did comment on the permit, Irwin ruled that lands within LMU-1 are expressly exempt and ineligible for designation under the petition process. Nevertheless, the petitioners may still participate in the permitting process and environmental reviews for the Chuitna coal project, Irwin pointed out.

Petitioners may ask for reconsideration

As for the areas outside LMU-1, Irwin found that coal mining did not pose a serious threat to them. “Except for a few instances and in very general terms, petitioners have failed to sufficiently describe how any of the allegations and any particular type of coal mining activities that might occur on the petitioned lands would adversely affect petitioners’ various interests,” he wrote. Also, the petitioners did not prove that it would be impossible to adequately reclaim the land after mining, Irwin added.

“The area that the petitioners have delineated ... is overly broad, arbitrary, and undercuts the petition’s credibility,” Irwin wrote. “Even if we were to assume that petitioners had submitted evidence supporting their allegations (which they have not), that evidence would not likely apply to all of the lands throughout the large area they delineate. Further, petitioners’ characterization of the petitioned area as ‘pristine’ does not appear to be an accurate characterization. To be sure, local residents, subsistence users, recreational fishing and hunting enthusiasts and commercial fishing operators seek out and benefit from the fish and wildlife resources located in this area. But the area has also been entered and used for other purposes, including logging and gas pipeline operations.”

If the petitioners wish to continue the process they may now request that the petition be reconsidered, or they may resubmit the petition with more supporting evidence.



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