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October 16, 2021

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Friday, August 27, 2021

A Lawsuit in Gov. Sean Parnell’s Future? Stonewalling Angers Anti-Coal Groups.

~The mouth of the Chuit River, between Tyonek and Beluga, Alaska

Remember, way back last year when I rode a bus in a snowstorm to go hear testimony in Kenai? It was all about whether to designate the land around the Chuit River “unsuitable” for coal mining. The way it stands now, PacRim Coal plans to (for the first time ever) actually dig up eleven miles of productive salmon stream for a giant open pit coal mine.  “Don’t worry,” they say. “We’ll just put it back the way it was when we’re done.”

Well, it doesn’t take a biologist to know that once you mess with a salmon’s habitat in the form of complete annihilation, draining, and digging up all the layers of sediment and natural coal filtration that make up the river bed, you can’t just go back a few decades later, dig a trench and build a new river out of dirt and expect it all to be chemically and biologically the same. It’s not like making little trails for the milk in your Cream of Wheat. It takes a long time to create a productive salmon stream, and so far the only one who has managed to pull it off over the millenia, is Mother Nature.

“There is a section (of the Alaska Surface Coal Mining Control and Reclamation Act) specifically written that states if an area is unsuitable for mining and cannot be reclaimed to its pre-mining values, then petitioners can ask to have it removed from the mining plan,” [Bob Shavelson, Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper] said.

That’s where the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, and Cook Inletkeeper came in. They submitted the petition saying that the land must be considered unsuitable by the state.  The petition, if successful, will not actually stop the mine itself, but will act as a stopgap measure of (at the very least) protecting 150 feet of land next to the river and the river itself.  It’s something.

~This is Chasity, the most adorable, and one of the smartest residents of Beluga.

So, testimony was heard on the issue. The first hearing was not in Anchorage, where half the population of the state lives, and from where you will be able to actually SEE the mine on the other side of the Inlet. No. The hearing was in Kenai, 150 miles south of there in the dead of winter, on the day of a blizzard. Despite all this, the house was packed and hours of testimony was given, almost unanimously for the “unsuitable” designation. “I know what it’s like to be the unpopular one in the room,” said the lone supporter, Dan Graham, the Project Director for the Chuitna Coal project.

~Bob Shavelson testifies in Kenai. Helen Jakak is in the foreground. Both she and her husband Emery, residents of Beluga and staunch opposers of the mine, passed away last month within days of each other. Despite the insistence of many that Helen stay seated for her testimony in Kenai, she chose to stand and voice her opposition strongly.

Since many of the local people in Beluga or Tyonek were unable to get flights across the Inlet because of the bad weather, they held another hearing in Tyonek itself. More heartfelt testimony was given, more evidence presented.

“What am I going to eat? I can’t eat money, I can’t eat coal. I eat moose meat. I eat fish. I live off this land. My grandfather showed me how to do that… He passed it down through generations. How to take care of this land, and what to do about it. I knew him, and what he said. … I lived off that land, I lived off that fish. I drank that water. I didn’t go over there and buy it from California. I went over there and I chopped that water hole, I drank that water, and I packed that water…for my Grandma. That water came from that river right there, and it still comes from there. And you’re going to pollute it!”

And then the DNR went off to review everything, and was supposed to come back with an answer on April 19.  A simple rough calculation will tell you that they are late. Very late. Four and a half months late.

But… they’re busy people. They have a lot going on. They needed a little extra time. Now, mind you, they’ve found plenty of time in the last 19 months to issue multiple water use permits to PacRim Coal, according to Bobbie Burnett of the CCC. But when it comes to their “legal and moral duty,” as Shavelson put it, the people will just have to be patient while the state breaks the law.

But patience is not always a virtue, particularly when it comes to being stonewalled on a project that could set a horrible precedent for destruction of wild salmon habitat in Alaska, and with devastating effects on the communities it touches. The next step is a lawsuit, if the state continues to drag its feet. They have 60 days.

Letter from Bob Shavelson of Cook Inletkeeper to Governor Sean Parnell

Attachment – Letter from Trustees for Alaska notifying the DNR of next legal steps

~Russell Kirkham, the Project Manager for the Alaska Coal Regulatory Program, and Rick Fredrickson, Mine Chief for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hearing testimony in Kenai

Comments

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Comments
14 Responses to “A Lawsuit in Gov. Sean Parnell’s Future? Stonewalling Angers Anti-Coal Groups.”
  1. Alaska Pi says:

    Well- good on Cook Inletkeeper and Trustees for Alaska!
    Reading those docs you linked to –
    The ULF was found to be complete in Feb of 2010…
    DNR has not met any meaningful deadline since…
    field surveys used as basis to extend the failure to meet deadlines, field surveys of unknown use and breadth…
    Holding a meeting technically in the area but unnecessarily distant from many involved/interested parties…
    All kinds of unanticipated schedules and workloads keeping the poor Commish from reaching a decision ( 2 commishes worth of BS piling up over the 19 months since this started now) while the dept has time to work with Pac Rim on water permits and all…
    What a load of hooey.
    Go for it . Sue the suckers.
    Is the 60 days warning merely politeness or a norm to allow response time from the state?
    Cuz polite hasn’t worked so far.
    And I think it obvious they couldn’t find their own tushes in a mere 60 days…

  2. Chenagrrl says:

    Brava, albeit belated, to you for riding the bus to cover the hearings.

  3. BeeJay says:

    I was born and raised in western Washington, growing up within sight of salt water and salmon. The human impact on salmon streams there has been huge, and there are not that many salmon left in any river or stream. We didn’t even take out any coal, nor straighten channels, all we had to do was live there and they were damaged nearly beyond “repair.”

    Septic tank sewage, cow manure, fertilizers, oil from cars and machinery, all of those and more have devastated the salmon spawning beds and the biochemistry of the water itself. What few fish are left are strictly regulated as to catch size (if any), and despite strict regulations concerning what can and can’t be done to salmon streams, the numbers of fish are holding, just. I’ve seen a lot of work done to bring back spawning beds, and so far it barely works. The numbers of spawning salmon have been few, there have been some increases here and there, but overall I would say it is not a 100% guaranteed fix. Salmon runs that used to measure in the 100’s of thousands are now measured in thousands, and commercial fishing is nearly extinct by comparison to the 1970’s. Recreational fishing is highly controlled, and subsistence fishing for tribal members is also restricted. No one gets what they would like: instead, they get what the salmon can bear that year.

    No amount of land stripping and then ‘repair’ will bring back a salmon river. They are fools for thinking it so, and if Gov. Parnell sides with the miners, he’s an even bigger fool.

    Sue away, as needed. Parnell’s idiocy knows no bounds.

    • Man_from_Unk says:

      This administration don’t care about Salmon or the thousands of poor people who have depended on the resource for hundreds and hundreds of years. We have dead rivers around Nome that use to have solid salmon runs.

  4. EatWildFish says:

    As the saying goes: ‘People treat you the way you allow them to treat you.’

    As Alaskans, we are allowing ourselves to be hoodwinked by deal cutting bureaucrats behind closed doors.

    The Kenai Peninsula is underlaid with coal. If PacRim is allowed the precedent of removing 11 miles of Alaska salmon streams to mine coal, watch out because the next river could be yours.

    • Zyxomma says:

      Exactly. The next river could be yours. I get updates on this frequently, courtesy of AlaskaWild. Rainforest Action Network, Oceana, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Earthjustice, and many other environmental organizations are on the case.

      Good luck with your fight against PacRim, Alaska. From what I’ve gathered, the coal would not be considered worth mining if it occurred elsewhere, but being so close to the Pacific, it could be shipped to China all too easily. Since it’s sub-lignite coal (lignite being the lowest grade; the stuff in Appalachia is high-quality anthracite, and I oppose blowing up mountaintops to mine that), I don’t think it’s even legal to burn as fuel in the USA. Correct me if I’m wrong.

      Salmon, although I don’t eat them, are edible. Coal is not.

  5. Diane says:

    From an outside prospective, it appears that nobody holds the state of Alaska accountable.
    They were late with palin’s emails, they were late with ethics violation decisions.
    Why?

  6. bobatkinson says:

    I’m with ya on fighting this mine and have the same question as Lisa. OT but hope you saw today’s Doonesbury strip. He’s on your side Mudflats. Hope Trudeau’s brilliance helps your campaign against McGinniss unethical leaking of the manuscripts for Blind Allegiance.

  7. lisa says:

    Where can I sign up to be a part of this suit? As a precedent setting decision I am very interested in fighting this.

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