Chuitna coal project plans to mine through salmon stream

COMPASS: Other points of view

March 22, 2010 

Wreck-la-mation: n. the act of destroying, forever, a vibrant, Alaska salmon stream; 2: PacRim's coal strip mine plan for the Chuitna River watershed in Upper Cook Inlet.

Under the state's large mine permitting system, there's no law that prohibits mining through a salmon stream. So, few Alaskans probably know PacRim's proposed Chuitna coal strip mine in Upper Cook Inlet plans to be the first major strip mine project in Alaska's history to completely remove the streambed and permanently take out the "root" of 11 miles of vibrant salmon streams. I want every Alaskan to understand -- and to speak out about -- the horrible precedent that could be set right here in Cook Inlet.

We're no different from other Alaskans who love to hunt and fish. We marvel at the incredible resources God put before us and we're blessed to be able to fill our freezer with salmon and moose every year. And we have an excellent relationship with industry, having lived with oil and gas in our backyard for many years.

But responsible development is one thing, and the Chuitna coal strip mine is another. In addition to mining through an important salmon stream, this massive project would dump an average of 7 million gallons of mine waste and runoff into the Chuitna River and Cook Inlet every day. Plus, this mine would rip through up to 30 square miles of pristine fish and game habitat if fully developed. The whole Kenai Peninsula, from Hope to Homer, is underlain with coal, but a project like this would never be considered if it were in the Kenai or Kasilof watersheds.

Last week in Fairbanks, Gov. Parnell told the Alaska Miners Association "We're never going to allow a mine that trades the future of one resource for another." We agree 100 percent. Why would we ever destroy a healthy stream full of wild Alaska salmon, just so a couple Texas millionaires who are behind this project can make a buck selling our coal to China? Scientific reports show this complex river system could never be reclaimed to produce healthy fish runs again. Instead of "reclamation," we should just call it what it really is -- "wrecklamation."

There ought to be a law against mining through a salmon stream. Because if it can happen here in Cook Inlet, it will happen anywhere there's a quick buck to be made at the expense of healthy, sustainable salmon runs.

If there's one thing that sets us apart from the Lower 48, it's that we haven't trashed our fish streams. Yet. But we're making the same mistakes they made Outside unless we draw a line in the sand and say "no mining through salmon streams." Period. It's good stewardship, and it's the right thing to do for our kids, grandkids and all future Alaskans.

If you agree, and if Cook Inlet salmon are important to you and your family, then get involved. Learn more at www.chuitna.org, sign the petition at www.obviouslaw.org, then write to Gov. Parnell and tell him he's right not to trade one resource for another. If we don't put our foot down now, we shouldn't be surprised when our fisheries go the way of the once-mighty salmon runs in Oregon, Washington, California and British Columbia.


Judy Heilman is president of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, an association of property owners, fisherman and hunters working to protect fish and game habitat from the impacts of the proposed Chuitna coal strip mine in Upper Cook Inlet.

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