A Beluga-based group opposed to the development of PacRim Coal LLP's proposed Chuitna Coal Mine on the west side of Cook Inlet is hoping to find support from state lawmakers to stop the project.
Terry Jorgensen, a spokesperson for the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and a commercial setnet fisherman in Beluga, said the grassroots group is pushing to enact a law that would prevent mining on salmon streams.
Delaware-based PacRim is in the permitting process for a proposed surface coal mine that would be located on a tributary of the Chuitna River, and include an access road, coal transport conveyor, housing, an air strip facility, a logistic center and a coal export terminal located in Tyonek, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
The current project predicts a minimum 25-year mine life with a production rate of up to 12 million tons a year.
The group said the tributary that would be affected by the mine, Middle Creek, has been identified by the state Department of Fish and Game as important to salmon.
Alaska's stream buffer rules require mine developers to file waivers with the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish Game if a project affects certain salmon streams, but there are no state laws expressly prohibiting mining on such streams.
Jogensen, who has a shore lease fishery on the west side of Cook Inlet, said it's too late to push for legislation this year with the current session in its final weeks, but he hopes to capitalize on the coming election season to elicit political support.
"We have a looming mining cloud over the state," he said on Tuesday, pointing to a list of mining projects from Southwest to Southeast. "It's time to have politicians really talk about their leadership and where they're going."
Jorgensen said he'll likely woo candidates from the Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna Borough as well as from the gubernatorial race, but had not approached anyone at this point.
He argues as well that by allowing the Chuitna mine in it's proposed location, he fears it will set a precedent through out the state.
"I think we're going to get support, we might even get it from industry if it's put in the right context," he said.
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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