Chuitna Coal Strip Mine

Chuitna Coal Strip Mine

Set Net Fishing, Beluga, Upper Cook Inlet (Source: Chuitna Citizens Coalition)

The Chuitna Coal strip mine is located in the Chuitna River Watershed near the communities of Beluga and Tyonek on the western shore of Cook Inlet.    The deposit consists of subbituminous coal with low sulfur content.  PacRim Coal, a Delaware company, proposes to mine eight square miles over a 25 year period and estimates that the mine would produce 300 million metric tons of coal.   In addition to the mine itself, the project would involve construction of extensive infrastructure.  This would include coal crushing facilities, a storage facility for 500,000 tons of coal on the coast at Ladd Landing, an eight-mile-long conveyor belt from the mine to the storage facility, and a two-mile-long dock to load coal onto ships.  The PacRim proposal calls for a strip mine.  PacRim would dewater the area, plow up vegetation, and remove all soil and rock layers above the coal.  This would destroy all the ecosystems, water bodies, and topography atop the coal, including salmon spawning streams.  Middle Creek, a salmon stream and a tributary of the Chuitna River, runs through the mine site for eleven miles.  This section of Middle Creek would be completely removed.  Any permit allowing this would set a precedent for allowing mining through salmon streams.

Source: Ground Truth Trekking (2010). Copyright held by photographer.

PacRim estimates that the mine would generate up to 500 construction jobs as well as 350 jobs during the operating life of the mine.  However, the aesthetic degradation of the area would likely be detrimental to the business of local tour operators.  Pollution from the mine could adversely impact local fisheries and construction at Ladd Landing would directly displace set net sites.

Pollution is a large concern with the Chuitna Coal strip mine.  Current uses for the area include commercial fishing, sport fishing, subsistence uses, hunting, and trapping.  PacRim estimates that seven million gallons of runoff would enter tributaries of the Chuitna River each day.  Such runoff would contain organic carbon, suspended solids, ammonia (which is toxic to fish), oil, grease, and metals such as aluminum, iron, and manganese.  The runoff would be stored in settling ponds before entering the river.  In the ponds, its temperature could rise, causing downstream water temperatures to rise above temperatures necessary for salmon health.

Coal dust presents another issue.  PacRim estimates that the storage facility would release 200 tons of coal dust into the air each year.  Coal dust poses significant hazards to human health.  It contains toxic heavy metals such as selenium, lead and mercury.  Coal dust inhalation is linked to respiratory issues such as increased asthma rates for children.

A strip mine at Chuitna would have large regional impacts.  Burning the coal could have global impacts. Coal combustion releases pollutants such as mercury. Burning coal also contributes to climate change.  Coal combustion releases more carbon into the atmosphere per unit of energy than any other energy source.

The project was initially permitted in 1990 but was abandoned until 2006.  PacRim and the US Army Corps of Engineers are currently in the process of conducting a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement as a precursor to submitting a permit application.

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