Proposed coal mines could affect local salmon streams

The Sustainability Club recently hosted a table to inform students about the Chuitna River coal mines and other issues related to sustainability.

Environment and society major Devin Johnson says  a company called Pacific Rim is proposing to establish six coal mines in south-central Alaska. The proposed coal mines are located one hour away from UAA in communities located both north and west of Anchorage.

The proposed Chuitna River coal mine will be located 40 miles west of Anchorage in Cook Inlet along the banks of an abundant salmon stream and major tributary to the Chuitna River called Middle Creek. Pacific Rim intends to remove 11 miles of this stream in order to extract coal.

The coal is located approximately 300 feet below the surface of the earth. Large, three-story cranes are used to dig deep, large holes in the earth to mine the coal. Because these cranes are so large they are difficult to maneuver, and they only move forward and backward.

Once extracted, the coal will be placed on a 12-mile conveyer belt and travel over the villages of Tyonek and Beluga to a manmade island for transport. The coal will then be shipped to countries in Asia and South America. The process will leave huge holes in the ground and will eliminate the entire ecosystem of that area.

Laura Comer with the Sierra Club says 15 percent of the salmon in the Cook Inlet spawn in the Chuitna and its tributaries, and those salmon will not recover from the mine.

Not only will fish be affected, but Chuitna and the surrounding area is also a major breeding ground for moose, and bears are also abundant along the water.

- Advertisement -

“Everybody should care because it’s right in our own backyard,” Johnson says. “There’s so many people who love to go out fishing. I myself love to go out fishing. I remember one of the best moments of my summer when I was a kid was going out fishing with my dad. I want to see that as something preserved in the future to come. Due to the fact that the mine is crossing a salmon stream, it would wipe out salmon for the future to come.”

Pacific Rim stated it will only be looking to bring in outside people to work at the strip mine because Alaska has never had a strip mine of this size before and it would take too much time to train locals. According to Comer, those working at the mine would only be here for a couple of months of the year, live in the town of Beluga and then leave.

“Essentially, we would be trading away hundreds of sustainable commercial fishing jobs,” Comer says. “Fishermen are up in arms. There are several people who live in Tyonek and Beluga by the river who have set net leases and they would be losing those leases because of where the coal conveyer belt and coal port would be located to export coal to Asia.”

The Sustainability Club plans on continuing work to stop these coal mines. Their approach is from the top-up, and they hope to have an effect on the policies. The club plans on hosting more public informational events.

Justice major Camilla Hussein signed the petition because she is concerned about the mines and their effect on salmon. Hussein is also concerned about the effects coal would have on the environment in China.

The Sustainability Club meets Monday at noon in the Sustainability Office, which is located in the Professional Studies Building.