Coal mine threatens Inlet setnetters

September 11, 2010 

KODIAK -- A call is out for public comments on a request to extend exploration permits for what would be Alaska's largest coal mine. The permits would be for the Chuitna Coal Strip Mine, proposed for the west side of Upper Cook Inlet by Delaware-based PacRim Coal.

The extension request is routine as the permits must be updated every two years, according to project director Dan Graham. He said comments should be sent to the state Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mining, Land and Water by Sept. 24.

But as of Friday, you wouldn't find the Chuitna coal mine project listed on the DNR site, nor was there mention of a comment period in the public notices section.

"We are still working on getting all our documents up on the state website -- it's a work in progress," said Russell Kirkham, DNR coal regulatory program manager. "I know there was a problem with the server, and it never got on to the public notice server. The notice did go out to the affected communities and agencies by mail."

Kirkham is taking comments at russell.kirkham@alaska.gov; at 550 W. Seventh Ave., No. 920, Anchorage 99501; or 269-8930.

The first phase of the Chuitna coal mine site potentially affects 11 miles of salmon streams. The PacRim and DNR research documents do not mention the word "fish." (Kirkham declined to comment on that omission.)

According to a 2009 DNR document, the Chuitna Coal Project is "at an advanced permitting stage." It describes the proposal as "a surface coal mine and associated support facilities, mine access road, coal transport conveyor, personnel housing and air strip facility, a logistic center and coal export terminal.

The current project predicts a minimum 25-year mine life with a production rate of up to 12 million tons a year." All told, the project includes three coal mines within a 20,571-acre area leased from the Kenai Peninsula Borough. PacRim pays the borough $40,000 per year to keep its lease active.

PacRim's Clean Water Act permit states it would discharge on average 7 million gallons a day of mine waste and runoff into the Chuitna River.

Plans filed with DNR show the coal would be crushed and transported 12 miles by conveyor belt to a storage and loading site at Ladd Landing. Up to 500,000 metric tons of coal would be stored there. A dock extending two miles into the inlet would shuttle the coal to freighters several times a week. The intent is to export the coal to Asian power plants.

Some environmentalists abhor the mine idea because they oppose coal mining and coal burning.

But the mine idea also has its fans because it would create jobs and do what many Alaska leaders advocate: develop the state's resources.

Terry Jorgensen is not a fan. He is one of seven setnetters who fear displacement by PacRim.

"The two-mile trestle would go right over my head. But the other problem is they want to build a permanent 400-feet-wide, 600-feet-long island a few feet in front of where I fish. So I am at ground zero, and it would put me and all the fishermen behind me out of business," he said.

Separate from the dock, Jorgensen is worried about how a mine would affect salmon spawning when it removes water from some streams and discharges waste.

Jorgensen said the fishermen are not against development, and they have worked well together with the oil and gas industry and the Chugach electric power plant at Beluga for 30 years.

"They respect commercial fishermen. The coal company just sent me a letter saying they want to displace me and to talk about costs. I told them I don't want to be displaced, and that's where we are," he said.

A letter to Jorgensen from William Vallee, a professional land management service, said: "During a routine examination of the DNR case file, it appears that you will need financial assistance in displacement costs relative to locating to a new site.

"PacRim Coal and others connected with the project want you to know that we will be pleased to render financial assistance in that we will pay all costs that you may incur in the process."

FISH CONSUMPTION DECLINES

Americans ate less seafood last year -- 15.8 pounds per person, the lowest level since 2002. That's down slightly from 16 pounds per capita in 2008.

According to the Top 10 list compiled each year by the National Fisheries Institute, America's seafood favorites remained largely the same. Shrimp held on to the top spot at 4.1 pounds per capita. Canned tuna stayed at No. 2 at 2.5 pounds per person.

Salmon held the No. 3 spot at more than 2 pounds per person. Alaska pollock ranked No. 4, at nearly 1.5 pounds.

These were followed by tilapia, catfish, cod and clams.

Americans ate more than 108 pounds of red meat per capita last year on average, followed by nearly 73 pounds of poultry.


Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her information column appears every other Sunday. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing on your Web site or newsletter, contact msfish@alaska.com.

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