Defend the Chuitna River from Coal Mining
The following guest blog from Bob Shavelson is a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series — Chuitna River, Alaska.
Join us in our quest to defend the Chuitna River throughout February, and be sure to take action!
Ten years ago, I saw a public notice for a proposed coal strip mine on the remote west side of Cook Inlet in southcentral Alaska. It caught my attention because my organization had been studying the effects of climate change on Alaska’s beloved salmon streams, and the results weren’t good— rising streams temperatures were making our cold-water salmon more vulnerable to pollution, predation and disease. The last thing Alaska salmon needed was another coal mine.
But there was another aspect of the project that caught my attention: this proposed strip mine – located in the Chuitna River watershed about 40 miles west of Anchorage – would be the first project in Alaska history to mine directly through more a dozen miles of wild stream. This dangerous precedent posed a threat to salmon streams across the state, because if they could mine through salmon habitat in the heart of Cook Inlet, they could do it anywhere.
Today, defending against the proposed Chuitna Coal Project is the number one priority for Cook Inletkeeper. Despite the recent downturn in Pacific basin coal markets, Chuitna coal proponents continue to press for the permits needed to build a massive strip mine and associated storage and exports facilities. Alaska boasts an enormous amount of coal – roughly one-eighth of the world’s reserves – and a new tidewater port will turn the Cook Inlet Basin into a coal-producing province for the foreseeable future.
Over the past decade, we have had some wonderful successes and some frustrating stumbles. Cook Inletkeeper has worked side-by-side with Native Alaskans who rely on wild salmon for subsistence. We’ve joined arms with commercial fishermen who rely on salmon to support their families. We’ve also connected with sport fishermen, tourism groups and local communities to forge a dynamic alliance that is saying “no” to coal and “yes” to healthy, wild Alaskan salmon.
Salmon define who we are as Alaskans, and the Chuitna coal strip mine poses a direct threat to our culture, our economy and our lifestyle. In 2016, we expect to see draft permit documents for the Chuitna coal mine, and with an outpouring of opposition, we hope to put this short-sighted project to bed once and for all.
Bob Shavelson is the Executive Director at Cook Inletkeeper in Homer, Alaska.