Decision issued on Chuitna lands unsuitable petition
(Anchorage, AK) – Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan on October 24, 2011 issued a 109-page decision rejecting a 2010 petition to designate state lands within the Chuitna River watershed as unsuitable for coal mining.
The petition was filed by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inlet Keeper. Alleging that the lands cannot be reclaimed after mining, the petitioners asked the state to ban surface coal mining operations within the Chuitna watershed.
Granting the petition would have halted an extensive environmental review of proposed mining activity and blocked the state from reviewing future permit applications for coal mining on these lands.
The petition was opposed by three entities -- Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office, Tyonek Native Corporation (TNC), and PacRim Coal, LP -- who intervened during the petition process to protect their property interests.
Commissioner Sullivan found that the petition did not meet the statutory requirements for granting a petition because, in part, the evidence in the record demonstrates that reclamation is technologically feasible. This evidence is cited extensively in the decision.
This is not the first time that this issue has been addressed. State and federal agencies have found that reclamation is feasible and have issued permits authorizing surface coal mining operations in the Chuitna River watershed. The Alaska Supreme Court, in Trustees for Alaska v. Gorsuch, unanimously upheld DNR’s decision concerning the feasibility of reclamation in the Chuitna watershed.
The majority of the landowners in the Chuitna watershed acquired the lands due to the significant coal resources. In its brief opposing the petition, the Mental Health Trust Land Office said approving it would “result in a major negative economic impact to the Trust and its beneficiaries.”
“Today’s decision is not a green light for specific mining projects in the Chuitna watershed. What we did today is reject the petitioners’ request to ban all surface coal mining on these lands,” Sullivan said.
“Going forward, any company seeking to develop specific coal mining projects in the Chuitna watershed will need to meet the state’s stringent environmental and responsible resource development standards and requirements,” he said.
If a mine is approved and developed on Trust lands, royalties from coal production will support its work on behalf of Alaskans with mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance abuse disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other brain illnesses and injuries.
To read the decision, go to http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/mining/coal/chuit/pdfs/Chuitna_River_LUM_Decision_Final_102411.pdf
A summary of the decision is attached to this press release.