Chuitna Coal no longer seeking permits

As of March 31, the Delaware-based PacRim Coal “has suspended all permitting activities” related to its project to surface-mine coal from under the West Cook Inlet’s salmon-spawning Chuitna River, according to a website post from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the mine’s lead permitter.

The proposed Chuitna Coal Project featured a roughly seven-mile conveyor belt carrying coal from the mine site to a loading terminal in Cook Inlet, as well as plans to reconstruct the braided stream system of the Chuitna and its tributaries in stages following their removal by mining. Since PacRim gave its notice of intent to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency in 2006, the company has sought permits from the EPA, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, and a variety of state agencies lead by DNR.

Opposed by salmon- and conservation-advocates from the beginning, controversy flared around the project in 2009. As the Alaska Department of Natural Resources was permitting the project, the Beluga-based activist group Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition requested water rights for three tributaries of the Chuitna River, intending to preserve them from mining. DNR delayed the applications to be processed alongside competing water rights applications from PacRim Coal, until a court ruled in 2013 that they had to be processed. When DNR decided the applications in 2015, Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition was awarded one of the water rights they had applied for. The others were subject to competing applications from PacRim.

The project has suffered regulatory setbacks as well as public ones. In November 2016 the U.S Army Corps of Engineers stopped considering — or “administratively withdrew” — PacRim’s permit application to discharge its fill material into Army Corps-regulated waters.

“The administrative withdraw resulted from insufficient information necessary to allow for informed public comment and the Corps’ review of the proposed discharges,” according to an Army Corps of Engineers statement.

The Native Village of Tyonek, about 12 miles southeast of the mine site and roughly 2.5 miles south of its coal-loading terminal, distributed a press release Monday calling PacRim’s permitting suspension “great news” and quoting Tribal President Arthur Standifer as saying “Our salmon, our way of life, and our land are safe.”

Reach Ben Boettger at benjamin.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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