MINING NEWS: Petition calls for Cook Inlet coal mining ban
Alaska DNR commissioner to decide if reclamation is possible in salmon-rich region; developer continuing with baseline studies
For Mining News
TRustees for Alaska, the non-profit law firm that represented the Nome plaintiffs in the case against Rock Creek mine, has teamed up with another citizens’ group to oppose coal mining in the Cook Inlet area. The new group is called the Chuitna Citizens NO-COALition, and together with Trustees for Alaska it has petitioned the Department of Natural Resources to declare the Chuitna watershed unsuitable for surface coal mining.
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Last summer the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a series of scoping meetings about the Chuitna project, and the public responses received at the meetings will be used to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement. Meanwhile, PacRim has been conducting a baseline study program, including wetlands and vegetation mapping, soil surveys and research into the aquatic and terrestrial biology of the site. There has also been some geotechnical drilling in the areas where facilities would be placed, Bruce Buzby, who is responsible for coal at DNR, told Mining News.
The project “threatens to destroy over 30 square miles of intact fish and game habitat, including tributaries of the salmon-rich Chuitna River. Additional adjacent leases in the area could bring the total disturbed area to over 55 square miles,” the Chuitna Citizens NO-COALition said in a release June 14. The organization believes that the complex wetlands and salmon stream hydrology in the region make reclamation “virtually impossible,” which is one of the criteria required under the coal regulations in order for an area to be designated unsuitable for mining.
First step is determination of completenessThe petition itself is 58 pages long and it was accompanied by 350 pages of supporting documents, Buzby said, so DNR hasn’t yet fully reviewed the materials. Under federal law, all states must make regulatory provisions to consider such petitions with regard to surface coal mining. Alaska’s regulations, which are almost identical to those in other states, stipulate that the DNR commissioner must decide within 30 days whether the petition is complete or if more information is required. If the petition is complete, a public hearing must be held within several months, and after that the commissioner will decide the issue.
The Chuitna Citizens group notes that it has been unable to access closed-door meetings between state and federal regulatory agencies and PacRim Coal and its consultants, and that it has asked Gov. Sarah Palin for an “open-door permitting process.” The Beluga field, which the Chuitna project would mine, contains about 1 billion metric tons of subbituminous coal and the life of the mine could be at least 25 years, according to PacRim Coal. Another Alaska coal project was blocked recently when residents of Chickaloon, north of Anchorage, protested a planned exploration program by Vancouver-based Full Metal Minerals. The company relinquished its leases.
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