Chuitna Coal Battle Heats Up

The state has turned down a petition that would have designated some state lands within the Chuitna River watershed as unsuitable for coal mining.

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Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan on Friday reaffirmed his decision to reject the petition, filed by Trustees For Alaska on behalf of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper.

Mine opponents say the Chuitna River and its tributaries are salmon streams and will be harmed by coal mining.

“You know, you just hope and pray that they’ll do what’s right,” Beluga resident Judy Heilman, who is the president of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, said. “I just don’t understand how Governor Parnell and DNR can refuse to protect Alaska’s wild salmon.”

“That’s what our state is all about is our resources, and that is one of our renewable resources, so, you know, they should put their foot forward to try to help out here; we don’t understand why they can do that.”

The petition requested buffers around the Chuitna and it’s salmon streams. DNR says the decision is the result of a thorough review of new materials submitted by the petitioners, existing records and state and federal laws.

The decision does not allow a mining project to go forward, but it does affirm the earlier decision not to ban all surface coal mining before conducting a full environmental review.

The decision comes as PacRim, the developer of the proposed coal project, is filing for a Clean Water Act permit with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Trustees For Alaska’s Valerie Brown says environmental attorneys are examining the petition, and there may be further legal action. She says there is no evidence that a project on the scale of the proposed Chuitna coal mine can result in reclaiming a salmon stream.