Who wants coal for Christmas?

Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not most of us, but if we don't want it, we better speak up. PacRim coal is gonna give us just that.

Okay, not really. They are gonna sell it to the Chinese, but "we", the Alaskan public, are pretty much just gonna give it away. We'll get something back, though, in the form of diminished salmon returns in Cook Inlet, and probably higher mercury levels in our fish.

The burning of low grade coal in plants with no emission controls is a major source of the mercury found in Alaskan halibut and rockfish.

Oh, and we will get a really big hole.

PacRim proposes to strip mine a salmon rich tributary of the Chuitna river. They project extracting 12 million metric tons of coal per year, for 25 years. This translates to the equivalent of a trench 100 yards wide, 100 feet deep, and 10.6 miles long every year for the life of the mine.

But not to worry -- they are obligated to "remediate" the river when they are done. Department of Natural Resources regulations stipulate that must be done. Well, that's a joke.

This is the first time in Alaskan history that the destruction of a salmon stream has been proposed for a strip mine, and believe it or not, there is no law against it. There are laws prohibiting us, as Alaskan hunters and fisherman, from driving an ATV across a salmon stream anywhere. We can't run an old 2-stroke in the Kenai River due to emissions. A new regulation is going into effect soon that will prohibit felt-soled wading shoes, due to fear they will transfer pathogens and invasives from one watershed to another.

But if we want to drag a giant bucket loader through an entire river for 25 years? Hey, just talk to DNR; They can get us a permit.

The precedent that would be set should this mine be permitted is terrifying. There are coal seams under vast areas of this state, many in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. If the lie of "remediation" is accepted, there is no place that would be safe from mining.

There is a public option to petition against a proposed mine on the basis that it is an unsuitable site, and cannot be remediated. If the proposed mine on this salmon producing tributary of the Chuitna doesn't meet that definition, nothing does.

A petition has been filed by the Chuitna citizens coalition (obviouslaw.org) and DNR will be holding a hearing to address the public's concerns at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, Wednesday, Jan. 19, at 6 p.m. If you can't make the meeting, comments can be addressed to:

Chuit River Watershed Lands Unsuitable Petition

Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources

550 W 7th Ave., Suite 920

Anchorage, AK 99502

or email to russell.kirkham@alaska.gov

Dave Lyon, Homer

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