State rejects petition against mine in Chuitna watershed

Critics lose bid to halt coal mining by PacRim.

Associated PressOctober 24, 2011 

The state of Alaska on Monday rejected a petition seeking to declare state lands within the Chuitna watershed as unsuitable for coal mining.

Department of Natural Resources Commission Dan Sullivan issued his decision in a 109-page ruling.

In January 2010, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper submitted a petition to protect Cook Inlet and its surrounding communities from environmental damage associated with strip mining proposed by Delaware-based PacRim Coal LP.

Part of PacRim's plan calls for the removal of 11 miles of Middle Creek, a tributary deemed by the Department of Fish and Game to be significant to salmon spawning in Cook Inlet. The company claims it would be able to restore the stream after more than 25 years of the mine's operation.

Sullivan ruled "that reclamation is technologically feasible."

"Gov. (Sean) Parnell should be ashamed of himself," Chuitna Citizens Coalition President Judy Heilman said in a statement. "We trusted the governor when he said his administration would never trade one resource for another. But now it's clear. The governor is willing to trade our salmon and fishing jobs in exchange for coal to power China." The Chuitna coal mine project is proposed on the west side of Cook Inlet, 45 miles from Anchorage. PacRim plans to mine an estimated 300 million metric tons of coal over 25 years.

Plans call for building the strip mine, as well as a road, a conveyor system to transport coal, housing, an air strip, a logistics center and an export terminal with a 10,000-foot trestle into Cook Inlet.

Most of the coal would be shipped to Asia for burning in power plants.

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