Public crowds meeting on proposed Sutton coal mine

A proposal to start coal mining near a populated area on the border between Sutton and Palmer drew a large crowd to a meeting of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly.

Some at the meeting said they favored the proposed Wishbone Hill coal mine project because of the good-paying jobs it could bring.

Others said they were opposed because of environmental and health concerns that could arise if coal mining was allowed to start up again in the area about 50 miles northeast of Anchorage.

The Borough Assembly, realizing that the contentious project could attract many residents to speak, agreed to move the meeting to the Palmer Railroad Depot. Even so, KTUU-TV reported Wednesday that there weren't enough seats for everyone who showed up to testify Tuesday night.

The Usibelli coal company is seeking permits to build the project, which would be less than a mile from dozens of homes and businesses.

Usibelli Coal Mine, the group in charge of the project, said Wishbone Hill would bring 75 to 125 high-paying jobs to the area.

But some in the crowd expressed worry about the impact the mine could have on the environment and the health of local residents. One concern was the amount of coal dust that could be kicked up on windy days.

Those opposed include property owners, Alaska Natives and hunters in the area.

"I have no problem with people wanting jobs," said Diana Ramsted. "But, I do have a problem -- a big problem -- with the wind in Palmer: The wind here that's going to take coal from where the Wishbone Hill is and blow it into children's lungs."

Mayor Larry DeVilbiss, who supports the project, said permitting addresses those concerns.

"I certainly would not be moving ahead if I didn't think that the 3,000-plus pages of permitting already in place did not accommodate most of the concerns that the public has," DeVilbiss said.

DeVilbiss is the author of the resolution at issue at the Tuesday meeting formally laying out the borough's support for mining renewal permits for the project.

"Will this give us good jobs?" asked Chuck Leet, speaking in support of the coal mine. "I believe so. These are jobs that are typically union paid, or at least high-skilled paid jobs."

The Department of Natural Resources is seeking comment on the permit renewal.

The Associated Press