Committee hears of Chuitna mine threat

Fish and Game advisory group seeks involvement in mine process, river pollution proposal

Posted: Friday, April 06, 2007

The Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committee discussed steps taken recently by the cities of Kenai and Soldotna and the borough assembly to curb pollution on the Kenai River, and drafted a proposal asking to be included in the Kenai Coalition as the process moves forward.

Also at its meeting Wednesday, the committee heard a presentation from Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, on the impact the Chuitna coal mining project would have on the surrounding environment.

“I can’t think of a worse form of development for Cook Inlet,” Shavelson said of the proposed coal mining project.

Shavelson described the Chuitna River, near the communities of Beluga and Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet, as pristine wilderness area. All five species of Pacific salmon can be found in the river’s waters, and the surrounding area is home to large black bear, brown bear and moose populations.

As proposed, Shavelson said, the mine would destroy the river and the surrounding ecosystem along with it.

The initial phase of the PacRim Coal project would include a mining area of more than 5,000 acres, a 12-mile access road and transport conveyor between the mine and Ladd Landing on the Cook Inlet shoreline, and an export terminal, which would include a 10,000-foot trestle extending out into the inlet.

The permitting process is under way; the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources are expected to release draft permits for public review and comment later this summer.

Concerns raised by Shavelson include the footprint of the mine — several of the Chuitna’s tributaries will be mined, approximately 15 miles of salmon habitat — and pollution for the mining process. An estimated 7 million gallons per day of mine waste would be discharged into the Chuitna. A 10,000-foot pier would have an impact on fish migration, beluga whale habitat and setnet sites in the area. There also is the potential for large clouds of coal dust to blow across the inlet, perhaps as far as Anchorage.

Shavelson said that, should the project be approved, it would set a dangerous precedent for Alaska. Not only does coal combustion contribute to climate change and put mercury into the environment, development of coal might stall investment in other energy sources.

“If we go backward toward coal ... we’re going to preclude investments in alternatives,” Shavelson said.

Following Shavelson’s presentation, committee members approved a motion to contact the regulatory agencies overseeing the project to request more information and the opportunity to provide comment. The committee also would like to hear from PacRim Coal.

Gary Dawkins, the committee chairman, said he brought the Kenai Coalition’s joint resolution before the committee because he felt members, who have been attending myriad meetings on hydrocarbons over the past and are well-versed in the Board of Fish process, could make a meaningful contribution to the Kenai Coalition’s efforts.

The Kenai Coalition, a working group consisting of members of the Kenai and Soldotna city councils and the borough assembly, met recently to craft a proposal for the fish board that would change fishing regulations to reduce hydrocarbons in the river.

The advisory committee called for a one-week recess and will resume its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss proposals for the joint fisheries and game board meeting next October. The advisory committee meeting will take place at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna.

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.



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