Hundreds Turn Out in Bone-Chilling Cold to Oppose Alaska Coal Mine
Despite a wind chill of 13 below zero, some 350 citizens turned out the evening of November 15 in the small town of Sutton, Alaska, about 60 miles northeast of Anchorage, for a four-hour public hearing about the proposed Wishbone Hill Coal Mine. The meeting was hosted by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The Wishbone Hill Mine is a proposed strip mine in the Matanuska Valley, about 5 miles west of downtown Sutton and less than a mile from a residential area. The Sierra Club's Alaska Beyond Coal campaign has been working to keep new coal mines from developing and prevent coal-fired electricity generating projects from coming online.
"More than 200 of the people in attendance were against the mine, wearing 'Say No to Wishbone Hill Coal' t-shirts and stickers and holding up signs," says Sierra Club organizer Emily Fehrenbacher.
"When the meeting was opened up for public testimony, 48 of our people testified with eloquent, values-based, substantive comments, compared to 31 pro-mining people from the Resource Development Council and Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc., who invoked nothing but 'jobs,'" Fehrenbacher says.
"Our main TV station broadcast live from the meeting, and we had a press conference the day before featuring local moms, property owners, a Chickaloon Village Traditional Council Leader, and a local doctor."
Usibelli, the only company actively mining coal in Alaska, has held the Wishbone lease since the early 1990s, but began gearing up to commence strip-mining operations only last summer. The company's mining permit is currently up for renewal, and many residents of Sutton and the nearby towns of Palmer and Buffalo Soapstone don't want a coal mine for a neighbor.
Photo by Bretwood Higman, courtesy of Ground Truth Trekking
Photo by Erin McKittrick, courtesy of Ground Truth Trekking
"I'm against building coal mines next to residential areas," Dr. Gary Benadetti, a Palmer resident, told the DNR at the Nov. 15 public meeting.
"I love the view that I have of Wishbone Hill," testified Gene Blydenburgh of Sutton. "I am not in favor of Usibelli Coal Mine blowing it up." Above, a view of the mountains surrounding Sutton. Moose Creek, below, runs along the edge of the proposed Wishbone Hill mine.
Salmon spawning habitat in Moose Creek has recently been restored by the Ahtna tribe of Native Americans, after it was destroyed by earlier coal mining decades ago. Below, a view of the Matanuska Valley, where Usibelli has purchased 7,434 acres of mining leases for the Wishbone Hill mine.
The Wishbone Hill area is traditional land of the Ahtna and is still used today by people of the Native Village of Chickaloon, to whom Wishbone Hill is sacred. The Chickaloons invested huge effort and more than $1 million to bring salmon back to Moose Creek, located in the same drainage as Wishbone Hill. These cultural resources and the tribe's investments in stream rehabilitation would be jeopardized and destroyed by coal mining.
Below, a view of the Matanuska River. The proposed Wishbone Hill mine is surrounded by residential communities in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, known locally as the Mat-Su Valley. Friends of Mat-Su and the Mat Valley Coalition are just two of the local groups working with the Sierra Club to stop the Wishbone Hill permit from being issued.
Usibelli has announced intentions to export Wishbone Hill coal to Japan. There are more than 125 families living within a mile of the proposed mining area, dozens of them within a few hundred yards of planned blasting.
According to the Alaska Center for the Environment, mining activities like blasting and ground surface removal would adversely affect these families through noise, dust pollution, and ground water impacts. Property values near coal mining plummet, and banks have already denied home loans to applicants in the area around the proposed mine. Access to popular trails, hunting, and fishing would be blocked for decades if mining proceeds.
Learn more about what the Sierra Club's Alaska Chapter and its allies are doing to move the state beyond coal. Click here to send a letter to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, telling them you oppose the Wishbone Hill coal mine.