Like any mother, I want my children to grow up in a healthy, safe and economically vibrant community. As a lifelong resident of the Matanuska Valley, seeing my family experience the rare and spectacular beauty of Southcentral Alaska is something I have always envisioned for their future. That is why my husband and I purchased our dream home in Sutton -- the perfect place to raise our four boys.
Unfortunately, we soon became painfully aware of the different vision our governor and special interests have for the region. Astonishingly, three different large-scale coal mines are currently being proposed for the Mat-Su. While small, underground coal mining is a historical part of the Valley, Wishbone Hill is an industrial-sized project, the likes of which has never been experienced there before. These projects threaten to completely shatter our dreams of raising a family in this remarkable valley. That is why I started to ask some tough questions.
• How far away from private property do mines have to be? Turns out, it's completely legal for coal mines to be within 300 feet of homes. In fact, the mining site at Wishbone Hill in Palmer is within one mile of hundreds of families. Mining there will include large-scale explosive blasting twice a day, 360 days per year.
• Do I have rights to the water in my well? Not exactly. I can claim rights with the state of Alaska to ensure a certain amount of water per day but I have no control over the quality of that water. Big coal companies like Rio Tinto -- a company with stake in the Chickaloon Coal Mine -- have a long history of polluting water in communities unfortunate enough to border one of their operations.
• Don't we have a rigorous permitting system? While there are state and federal regulations that coal mine developers must comply with, those regulations are not designed to adequately protect nearby communities. Large coal mines like the projects proposed in the Mat-Su have historically been far away from population centers so the rules aren't in place to mitigate the impacts on people who live and recreate in the area. The violation records of all three mining companies with leases in the Mat-Su are a matter of public record and paint a dismal picture of their ability to keep employees and the environment safe. What will happen when these violations occur near large population centers?
• Can we still recreate in the Moose Range? All of these proposed mines would cut off access to hiking, snowmachine, ski and climbing trails that have been used by Southcentral residents for decades.
And there are questions that have yet to be answered. Who will pay for the road upgrades and damages? Should the Mat-Su serve as a resource colony for China, Japan and other Asian superpowers? Is this in our national best interest? In our local best interest?
I began to realize that proposed coal developments in the neighborhoods of the Mat-Su were setting a bad precedent for mining in the entire state. That's when I decided enough was enough. After 17 years as a community social worker working with people who experience disabilities and children who are abused, I changed career directions last October to take this matter on full time. Now as the coordinator of the Mat Valley Coalition, I have joined thousands of residents working hard to protect our families and the future of our community.
Working with supporters from all across the state has given me greater insight on the dangerous effects coal will have on our communities. The extra noise, traffic delays and toxic dust will require most Alaskans to live with the consequences of coal development in our state, without any direct economic benefit to show for it.
We must realize that the fight to protect a Matanuska Valley resident's backyard is actually a fight to protect Alaska's backyard. We all have a vested interest in making sure the Mat-Su does not become an economically depressed and poisoned Alaska version of Appalachia.