Groups Criticize State For Renewal Of Wishbone Hill Coal Mining Permit

A coalition of environmental organizations are criticizing the state for issuing a coal mining permit for a site near Palmer.

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 The Alaska Department of Natural Resources issued a renewal of permits for Usibelli Coal’s proposed Wishbone Hill mine on October 3. Russell Kirkham, director of the state’s coal regulatory program, says the permit is DNR’s final decision

“What the state did was finalize the renewal request by Usibelli Coal Mine to renew their two Wishbone Hill surface coal mining permits for an additional five year permit term.”

 The final decision allows Usibelli to operate the mine. The company has been awaiting the state go ahead since it applied for permit renewal in 2011.

The Mat Valley Coalition issued a statement on Monday, expressing disappointment in the move. According to the coalition’s Liz Allard, the state is ignoring the wishes of Alaskans.

“In 2011, DNR hosted a hearing here in the Valley, and over 200 people turned out in opposition of the Wishbone Hill mine. And then fast forward to earlier this year, when Usibelli was seeking approval of their air quality permit for the third time and over 500 people submitted public comment in opposition to the air quality permit, only the Department of Environmenta Conservation approved the permit in June. “

 Usibelli vice president of business development Rob Brown said in an email that the permit was originally obtained in 1991, and that Usibelli acquired it in 1997 and has maintained the permit and the coal leases since then. Usibelli began the permit renewal process for Wishbone Hill in 2011.

 Brown says the Wishbone Hill coal is slated for export to Asian markets from Port MacKenzie. A feasibility study completed in 2011 was based on producing 500,000 tons of coal annually.

DNR’s Kirkham says the final decision on the permit allows an appeals process, in which a person adversely affected can request a hearing before a hearing officer. The deadline for a hearing request is November 3.

 Allard says the Mat Valley Coalition has not decided what to do yet.

 The Wishbone Hill permit has been a source of contention among area residents for several years. Allard says the population of the area has grown since 1991, and some homeowners in the area complain of health hazards from coal dust to children and elderly, while an elementary school operated by the Chickaloon Tribe is close to a road access to the proposed mine. Supporters of the mine say it will provide jobs for the community.