Saturday, August 7, 2010

Chickaloon Village Challenges Alaska DNR on Wishbone Hill

As has been expected since late June, the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council (CVTC), in partnership with others, has filed to appeal the Alaska Department of Natural Resources July 7th decision "to allow Usibelli Mine, Inc. (“Usibelli”) to allow coal exploration activities in the Wishbone Hills near Sutton, Alaska.

"This appeal asks DNR to rescind its approval until and unless DNR and Usibelli comply with State and Federal law, enter into consultation with CVTC, and allow for public comment."

Back in June, Anchorage Daily News reporter Rindi White succinctly described the project and its scope:

Usibelli, which mines coal in Healy, is considering mining its Wishbone Hill lease north of Palmer.

Company officials estimate the lease holds about 10 million tons of coal, enough to operate a mine for 12 to 20 years and employ 75 to 125 workers.

The company this week began building a 2.7-mile road to reach the proposed mine site. It also plans to drill exploratory holes to gather information for a mining feasibility study. If results are favorable, the company could begin production in 2012.

But first, Usibelli wants to secure two permits. The company must renew its exploration permit with the state this year. It also wants to renew a 25-year lease of 60 acres of Matanuska-Susitna Borough land.

The CVTC, in their announcement cite:

CVTC’s appeal challenges DNR to go back and take the hard look required by State
and Federal law at the impacts of exploration on the constitutionally protected religious and cultural rights of CVTC members. Among other issues, CVTC’s appeal focuses on the failure of DNR to consult with CVTC, its failure to adequately consider exploration’s impacts on CVTC’s religious and cultural practices within and adjacent to the permit area, DNR’s failure to take into account affects on historic, cultural and archeological resources and sacred sites, and the failure to take measures to protect salmon and salmon habitat restoration efforts jointly undertaken by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and CVTC.

CVTC joined the Castle Mountain Coalition in challenging DNR’s failure to take into account the increasingly residential character of the area, the health and welfare impacts of increased mining and heavy equipment traffic, and the faulty and incomplete baseline data produced by Usibelli. CVTC’s culture has been under attack from coal mining for more than a century. This latest attack by Usibelli hardly comes as a surprise to CVTC.

In the early 1900’s the US Navy and coal miners brought alcohol, disease, and destruction to Chickaloon’s people. Survivors soon discovered that coal mining had destroyed the spawning habitat of the salmon
they relied on for cultural and physical survival.

It has only been since 2002 that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and CVTC have been able to begin the process of restoring salmon runs in Moose and Eska Creeks.
USFWS and CVTC have poured more than $1,000,000 and thousands of hours into restoring the salmon habitat. The return of these once great runs will benefit all Alaskans, not just the Tribe. But now, Usibelli, with help from DNR, threatens to wipe out these efforts entirely. DNR’s decision approved the use drilling compounds with known toxicity to fish and aquatic life and it failed to give adequate consideration to the salmon restoration efforts of CVTC and the USFWS.

The Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, once looked upon as rather flaky by other Native groups and Mat-Su locals, has gained enormous credibility through the late 1990s and the first decade of this century, as more young Native leaders from around the state have sought to be empowered along the CVTC lines, rather than along those of the Tribal and Village Corporations.

Forces are quickly aligning to challenge this messy, ill-advised project.

Here's a handy map that you can expand, to see the boundaries of many Palmer-Sutton-Chickaloon area mining lease and prospect boundaries:

Bretwood Higman and Erin McKittrick have been updating information about the "progress" of the Wishbone Hill project. Here's a link.

And, if you are unfamiliar with current development proposals and community reactions in the Mat-Su Valley, here is a link to Friends of Mat-Su., which "provides land use information, advocates for borough wide planning, promotes citizen involvement and offers tools and support to develop a healthy and vibrant community."

top image - Erin McKittrick


Dan Heynen said...

Thanks for this post - I'm forwarding to all Bonnie Lake Area Property Owners.


Philip Munger said...

Thanks, Dan. See you when I get back to AK.