The company planning to dig Alaska’s biggest coal mine in Upper Cook Inlet is scrapping its plans. PacRim Coal of Delaware announced its decision over the weekend.
“First I felt disbelief. I thought it’s an April Fools day joke. This can’t be true.”
Judy Heilman of Beluga is with the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. That community partnered with the Native Village of Tyonek in 2006 to oppose the coal mine in their region.
“Then, I just cried. It’s just unbelievable. In one part it’s like I can’t believe it, another part is like oh my God, now we can do something and not have this hanging over us for another ten years.”
PacRim Coal filed for permits covering 10,000 acres on the west side of Cook Inlet. The coal mine would have removed the wetlands and land overlay from the salmon-rich Chuitna Watershed to strip 300 million tons of low grade coal over 25 years for export to Asia. The first phase alone would remove and dewater 20 square miles of salmon habitat, dig down 300 feet and discharge 7 million gallons of mine waste a day into the Chuitna River.
PacRim was far along with its permitting process but faced falling coal prices and strong opposition from Alaskans. The state Department of Natural Resources received more than 15,000 comments against the coal mine and was planning to begin public hearings on the project soon.
If DNR ruled in favor for water rights for coal over salmon, it would have set an unsettling state precedent. Bob Shavelson is with Cook InletKeeper, a mine opponent.
“It would be the first time in Alaska’s state history that we would allow an Outside corporation to mine completely through a salmon stream. And the purpose is to ship coal to China. There would be no domestic use for this coal. And it’s really a very dangerous precedent because if they can do it here in Cook Inlet they will be able to do it anywhere in the state.”
Grassroots activism by Alaskans gets the credit for stopping the mine after more than a decade, Heilman says.
“Never back down. There are times when you want to throw in the towel and just scream and cuss and have a fit, get over it and just go forward.”
But she cautions the fight is not over yet –
“We need to do something so this can’t start anyplace else. There needs to be laws and legislation so they can’t mine through salmon streams, in our back yard or anybody else’s.”
The Alaska legislature is in the process of updating laws that protect salmon habitat for the first time since statehood. Find links at www.alaskafishradio.com