Natives voice concerns on mine

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Officials with state and federal agencies have met several times in the past year with residents of Native villages and tribal leaders to discuss the proposed Chuitna Coal Mine project.

Many of the issues raised during those meetings mirrored those expressed by the wider population of Southcentral Alaska over PacRim Coal’s plans to mine the Beluga coalfields not far from Tyonek and to build the infrastructure to move that coal to a terminal to be built at Cook Inlet for shipment to overseas and domestic markets.

Among the questions posed to the developer’s representatives Bob Stiles and Patty Bielawski, as well as to EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DNR officials and others included how much fuel would be stored on site, how the company would handle wastes and coal dust, protect rivers and streams, account for animal migration and control hunting and fishing by employees.

According to a synopsis of those meetings provided by EPA, the villagers were told a total of more than 850,000 gallons of fuels would be stored at the mine and terminal facilities, the bulk of that, 800,000 gallons of diesel, would be stored at the Land Landing logistic center.

Sanitary wastes would be handled at the mine site or at a drain field at the Ladd logistics center, all in accordance with requirements of state and federal permits. Coal dust from the mine, the conveyor that will transport it to the terminal, and from stockpiles of coal at the terminal will be regulated under provisions of the Alaska Surface Coal Mining Control and Reclamation Act and ADEC air quality permits. Water and suitable dust suppressants are to used on the haul road, and water is proposed to be used to control dust at the terminal.

State DNR officials have suggested PacRim consider a fully enclosed conveyor and covering for the stockpile.

Rivers and streams would be protected under permit provisions. Essentially, the company plans a set of settling ponds to remove sediment from storm water and snowmelt, and other treatments are to be used in removing pollutants introduced by mining operations.

Wildlife migration patterns are to be accommodated in construction of the conveyor with crossings included in the design. Both elevated and buried sections are planned, according to developers.

As for employee hunting and fishing, none is to be allowed within the project’s permit.

Villagers asked about the potential for coal fires. According to EPA’s synopsis, such fires can occur within coal seams or in stockpiles and overburden dumps. Spontaneous combustion is a frequent cause. Fires would be handled in accordance with approved safety plans.

Cultural resources might be discovered or human and archaeological remains uncovered in the mining areas. In that case, EPA said, EPA and other cooperating agencies would coordinate with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the State Historic Preservation Office, affected tribes and the developer to develop a Programmatic Agreement for identifying, evaluating and treating historic properties or human remains.

The potential for Native hire was another topic. According to the synopsis, there is as yet no policy regarding local and Native hire, but one is to be developed in advance of construction.

Villagers asked about blasting at the mine site and were told there would be some minor use of explosives, mostly for fracturing large boulders.

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