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Inletkeeper Joins Citizens & Groups Asking State to Find the Chuitna Watershed "Unsuitable" for Coal Strip Mining

The massive, proposed Chuitna coal strip mine 45 miles west of Anchorage along the shores of Cook Inlet will devastate important fishing and hunting habitat, harm subsistence uses, and undermine Alaskan ways of life.  On Thursday, June 14, Inletkeeper joined local citizens and groups in an "Unsuitable Lands Petition" filed under state law, which calls on the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to find the proposed mining region "unsuitable" for large scale coal strip mining.

See the Press Release

See the Petition to the State of Alaska

See links below for additional information on the Chuitna strip mine.

Press Release


For Immediate Release:      For More Information:

June 14, 2007                             Terry Jorgensen, 907.583.2662

                                                    Judy Heilman, 907.583.2277

                                                      Chuitna Citizens NO-COALition

                                            Becca Bernard, 907.276.4244 x113

                                                                       Trustees for Alaska


Citizens Petition State to Declare Chuitna watershed “Unsuitable” for Coal Strip Mining

First-ever use of state law to protect Alaskans from massive strip mine impacts


ANCHORAGE, AK – Local citizens and conservation groups today filed a legal petition requesting the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to designate all lands within the Chuitna River watershed, on the western shore of Cook Inlet, as unsuitable for surface coal mining.  A Delaware corporation, PacRim Coal, plans to develop the Chuitna coal strip mine, which threatens to destroy over 30 square miles of intact fish and game habitat, including tributaries of the salmon-rich Chuitna River.  Additional adjacent leases in the area could bring the total disturbed area to over 55 square miles.  Because the complex wetlands and salmon stream hydrology in the region make mining and post-mining reclamation virtually impossible, local citizens and groups have asked DNR to recognize the region as unsuitable for intensive strip mining activity.

            “This isn’t the Usibelli coal mine or some other upland coal mine where conditions are relatively dry,” said Judy Heilman, spokesperson for the Chuitna Citizens No-Coal Coalition.  “The wetlands and streams of the Chuitna area represent a unique and complex system that supports our salmon and our Alaskan way of life.  DNR cannot pretend these habitats can simply be replaced once the mining corporation takes what it wants.”

            Under the Alaska Surface Coal Mining Control and Reclamation Act (ASCMCRA), DNR must designate an area unsuitable for coal mining if reclamation is not technologically feasible in the area.  DNR may designate an area as unsuitable for mining if the strip mining will damage aquifers, natural systems, and aesthetic values, among other things.

            “Once you strip the wetlands and overburden to remove the coal from as deep as 300 feet, the aquifers and natural water flows will be massively altered along with the salmon habitat they support,” said attorney Becca Bernard with Trustees for Alaska.  “DNR must recognize there is no feasible technology to return the land to pre-mining conditions - especially here in Alaska’s unique cold and wet weather ecosystem - as required by state and federal law.”

            As energy prices remain relatively high, coal development is receiving increased attention in Alaska, which possesses roughly half the nation’s coal reserves.  According to PacRim Coal officials, Chuitna coal would largely supply Asian markets. Earlier this year, Governor Palin announced – for the first time ever – elevated mercury levels in Alaska fish, and coal-fired power plants in Asian and Russia are likely mercury sources. 

“Why would we destroy salmon streams in Alaska with a massive coal mine, then set ourselves up for more mercury in our fish when old Asian power plants burn this coal?” said set net fisherman Terry Jorgenson. “I sell my fish because they are fresh, clean and wild Alaska salmon, and a massive coal mine will destroy our marketing advantage over farmed fish.”

            The Chuitna River watershed supports all five species of pacific salmon, and provides essential habitat for bear, moose, and other fish and game. It has already been identified as one of the nation’s ten “Most Endangered Rivers” for 2007 due to the imminent threat of coal strip mining in the area  The region provides important subsistence, commercial and recreational fishing and hunting opportunities that support Alaskan families and their way of life.

  “If we don’t recognize this unique and fragile area as unsuitable for coal strip mining, no place in Alaska will be safe,” said Heilman.

            Local citizens and groups have tried in vain to gain access to closed-door meetings between state and federal regulatory agencies and PacRim Coal and its consultants. A response to a recent Freedom of Information Act request shows regular meetings, teleconferences and document exchanges between the agencies and the developers. Local citizens have contacted Governor Palin repeatedly for an open-door permitting process.

The Chuitna Citizens NO-COALition is an alliance of local residents and property owners concerned about the impacts from the proposed Chuitna coal strip mine.  Trustees for Alaska is a nonprofit public interest law firm providing legal counsel to protect and sustain Alaska's natural environment.  A copy of the Unsuitable Lands Petition is available at: www.trustees.org or www.inletkeeper.org


Massive Coal Mine Lands Chuitna River on

 Most Endangered Rivers List 2007



* Click Thumbnails for Full Sized Versions *


Press Release



Bob Shavelson, CIK 907.299.3277

Randy Virgin, ACE  907.274.3656

Judy Heilman, CCC  907.583.2277 


Proposed Coal Mine Lands Chuitna River on

America’s Most Endangered Rivers List for 2007

 ANCHORAGE, AK – Local citizens and groups today announced that the Chuitna River, located 45 miles west of Anchorage on the west side of Cook Inlet, has been selected as one of ten rivers nationally to be included on American River’s list for the “Most Endangered Rivers 2007.” The Chuitna coal strip mine, proposed by Outside investors with PacRim Coal, LLC, prompted the Chuitna River’s inclusion on the list.

“The permitting process is well underway for this massive coal strip mine.” said Terry Jorgenson, a commercial fisherman and member of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. “In light of the substantial salmon resources threatened by the Chuitna coal strip mine, and recognizing the salmon protection rollbacks Alaska pushed through by the Murkowski Administration, it makes sense the Chuitna River is one of the nation’s ten “Most Endangered Rivers” for 2007.”

The Chuitna Coal Project, if fully developed, would destroy over 30 square miles of rich fish and game habitat within the Chuitna River watershed, and would dump millions of gallons of mine waste to Chuitna River and Cook Inlet fisheries each day. Because Alaska possesses roughly half the nation’s coal reserves, Asian markets and local industries are increasingly looking to develop and use coal as oil and gas prices remain relatively high.

“The Chuitna coal strip mine represents a dangerous precedent that will lock Alaska into a coal-based energy future that will destroy fish and game habitat, add mercury to Alaska’s fisheries, and increase the production of greenhouse gases,” said Bob Shavelson, Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper.  “Reliance on large scale coal resources will also preclude investments in cleaner fuel sources such as natural gas, tidal, wind and geothermal energies.”

In addition to the strip mine site and associated facilities, the Chuitna coal strip mine will include a twelve mile long partially-enclosed conveyor to transport coal to tidewater, a 500,000 ton coal storage area along the shores of Cook Inlet, and a large gravel island and 10,000 foot long dock and pier to service coal ships. 

“Recent coal dust problems in Seward highlight the threats from blowing Chuitna coal to citizens as far away as Anchorage, and the mine’s transportation facility will displace or interfere with long-established commercial, sport and recreational fishing opportunities,” said Randy Virgin, Executive Director of the Alaska Center for the Environment.

American Rivers is a national nonprofit that annually publishes a list of the nation’s “Most Endangered Rivers.” For a copy of the Most Endangered Rivers Report for 2007, see: http://www.americanrivers.org

Cook Inletkeeper is a citizen-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains.  The Alaska Center for the Environment is Alaska's largest home-grown citizen's group working for the sensible stewardship of Alaska's natural environment.  The Chuitna Citizens Coalition is an alliance of local residents and property owners concerned about the impacts from the proposed Chuitna coal strip mine.

            For a complete media package, including documents, pictures and a video, go to:  wwww.inletkeeper.org




 Report  pollution & habitat destruction:  Call Inletkeeper's Hotline 1-888-MY-INLET (694-6538) or click here




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PO Box 3269 / 3734 Ben Walters Lane

Homer, Alaska  99603

tel. 907.235.4068     fax 907.235.4069



Upper Inlet Office

308 G St., Suite 219

    Anchorage, AK 99501

tel. 907.929.9371    fax 907.929.1562



©2007  Cook Inletkeeper  Last Updated  06/28/2007  


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