Chuitna Coal Strip Mine
The Chuitna Coal Project would be the largest strip mine in Alaska and the first project in the State’s history to completely mine through and ‘remove’ a wild Alaska salmon stream consequentially trading away wild Alaska salmon, a renewable resource for a non-renewable resource.
PacRim Coal, a Delaware corporation funded by Texas investors, is working to develop Alaska’s largest coal strip mine 45 miles west of Anchorage near the community of Beluga and native village of Tyonek.
PacRim intends to completely remove 13.7 miles of Middle Creek, a primary tributary of the Chuitna River that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game identifies as important to salmon. PacRim’s mining plan removes the entire streambed, bank-to-bank to a depth of 350 feet destroying the underlying water flow paths essential for overwinter survival of salmon eggs. This level of impact will fundamentally alter the underlying hydrology to a point where stream reconstruction is fundamentally impossible; Middle Creek will be destroyed.
The Chuitna, or Chuit River is one of the only non-glaciated clear flowing streams on the west side of Northern Cook Inlet. Called the “Kenai River of the West Side” by locals, it is known for its king and silver salmon runs.
PacRim’s initial mining scheme for the headwaters of the Chuitna Watershed includes stripping over 5000 acres during a 25 year period.PacRim’s coal strip mine, known as the Chuitna Coal Project is just the first of 3 phases.
The mining area is comprised of headwaters, wetlands (40% of the mining area), tundra and forest; all vital to the downstream water quality and the health of salmon populations. Additional adjacent leases combine for 60 square miles of potential coal strip mining straddling the headwaters of the Chuitna Watershed.
To download a copy of the Chuitna Topo click here.
A Historic Precedent
The State of Alaska has never allowed the wholesale removal of a salmon stream. Permitting PacRim’s Chuitna Coal Project will set a historic precedent for fish and game management; destroying healthy salmon streams for non-renewable resources. If the State allows mining through the Chuit then no salmon stream in the state is safe.
In testimony before the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2012, Dr Margaret Palmer, a nationally recognized expert on watersheds and stream reclamation stated: “You should recognize that if the watershed is mined as proposed, you will not regain the salmon populations that frequent the streams now.” You can view Dr Palmer's testimony here.
There has never been a successful salmon stream restoration after the scale of destruction PacRim is proposing, and there is no scientific evidence to suggest Middle Creek could be restored to its current state of productivity. PacRim’s Chuitna coal strip mine is a ‘Grand Experiment’ that will trade sustainable salmon runs for coal exports, destroying wild Alaska salmon streams to power Pacific Rim economies.
Despite the economic significance of salmon to local and state economies there is no law that bans mining through a salmon stream. The authority to protect salmon streams from mining impacts is discretionary; State Agencies can issue a permit that would allow the wholesale removal of a salmon stream setting a dangerous precedent for the future of salmon.
Salmon Streams are Unsuitable for Coal Strip Mining
Alaska’s salmon are an important part of our culture and economy providing our families and communities and with a sustainable infusion of income, jobs, and healthy food. Maintaining this valuable renewable resource requires protecting wild salmon habitat.
Cook Inletkeeper petitioned the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to deem the Chuit River and its tributaries as ‘Unsuitable for Coal Mining’. Alaska’s coal mining laws allow citizens to petition to have certain lands designated as unsuitable for surface coal mining and as a source of healthy food and strong sustainable economies salmon streams are unsuitable for coal strip mining.
Cook Inletkeeper's petition request the State create a buffer around the salmon spawning and rearing tributaries should the mining proposal move forward to permitting. Thousands of Alaskans have written Governor Parnell asking him to honor his statement to 'never trade one resource for another' by accepting our Unsuitable Lands Petition. Cook Inletkeeper submitted the petition in January 2010, and in October 2011 the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) denied the Unsuitable Lands Petition deeming salmon streams as suitable for coal mining.
The story of the state of Alaska’s failure to protect salmon habitat continues and in April 2013 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) denied an initial Title 16 Petition aimed at banning the removal of salmon streams in the Chuitna Watershed. Again in June 2013, ADF&G denied a second Title 16 Petition seeking to ban the removal of salmon streams in the Chuitna Watershed. In July of 2013 the DNR denied the request to reconsider the 2010 Unsuitable Lands Petition. In response to a the Instream Flow Reservation that was filed on behalf of Chuitna Citizens Coalition in 2009, the Alaska Superior Court ruled in November 2013 that the DNR unconstitutionally denied citizen’s constitutional rights in their failure to process a 4-year old application to keep water in Chuitna Watershed streams for salmon. DNR is currently accepting public comments on its decision for whether to grant an Instream Flow Reservation for Middle Creek. Submit your comment before April 9th!
The Economics of Wild Alaska Salmon Habitat
In October 2011 Cook Inletkeeper released a report of the potential economic costs andbenefits of the Chuitna coal strip mine which finds economic and environmental damages tofisheries, ecosystems, air, climate and water quality could cost Alaska $2 billion in economic losses during the life of the project, which is up to six times greater than the economic benefits. The report gives the State of Alaska a strong foundation to reject plans to mine through salmon habitat as part of the Chuitna coal strip mine.
The Cost of Coal
All coal from the Chuitna Coal Project is bound for export to Pacific Rim coal fired power plants. Coal fired power plants release toxic Mercury into the air which then travels by atmospheric and oceanic currents to Alaska, elevating the levels of Mercury found in our ocean fish.