Saving My Home by the Chuitna River

The following guest blog from Judy Heilman is a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series— Chuitna River, Alaska. Judy Heilman is a local resident of Beluga, Alaska, and a member of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition.

Join us in our quest to defend the Chuitna River throughout February, and be sure to take action!

ChuitnaRiverFall-by-Damion-Brook-KintzChuitna River in fall | Damion Brook Kintz

Living in the small community (population 17 in the winter) of Beluga, Alaska, is like a dream come true. We’re located 45 air miles across the Cook Inlet from Anchorage, and we have to fly all of our supplies over because we have no shopping or other services here.

We have roads, but none of those connect us to anywhere but the rivers.

Living here in this small community and depending a lot on what we can grow or harvest from the land is a way of life that we love. We fill our freezers and pantry with salmon and moose every year. We have a good-sized garden that we depend on to harvest fresh vegetables; we can also dehydrate or freeze a good amount. We pick the blueberries, currents, and cranberries around the area and raise raspberries and strawberries in the garden.

Before moving to Beluga, 23 years ago, I lived in the Yakima River Valley and ran a Family Day Care for over 24 years while raising my family. I went to a community college in the evenings and took classes on childhood development, nutrition, preschool education— anything to learn all I could to be a good mom and day care provider.

My husband, Lawrence, worked for Chugach Electric for 27 years as their Welding Specialist before retiring. He made sure the big natural gas turbines were in tiptop shape. He also taught himself how to build a log home from trees cut in the area around our property.

Fighting to stop Pac Rim’s proposed coal strip mine was not what we had planned for our retirement years.

Our life would change dramatically if the proposed Chuitna Coal Project is permitted. The air pollution, noise level and water pollution (even though they claim that the “infiltration ponds” will keep it out of the river) will destroy salmon and moose habitat, our berry fields, and more. The beach where we have our cookouts and collect agates will be covered with coal dust. We won’t have the same access to this area with a coal conveyer belt and a commercial dock hanging over the edge of the bluff. Who would want to live in all of that chaos?

We can’t let our salmon streams in Alaska end up like many have in the lower 48.

In the future, I don’t want to stand on the Anchorage side of the Cook Inlet, look over at Beluga and think, “There used to be a beautiful salmon river over there, I lived there and I loved it.” I don’t want the Chuitna River to be a memory like Celilo Falls on the Columbia River is now. This is Alaska, “The Last Frontier.” Let’s get it right this time!

Please help us defend the Chuitna River by asking Governor Bill Walker and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotton to deny permits for this harmful project!

ChuitnaRiver-AK-JudyLarryCabin--Judy-HeilmanJudy and her husband Larry in front of their home.

7 Responses to “Saving My Home by the Chuitna River”

Cathy Caraway

Save the Chuitna River from coal mining. This is a vital area that must not be disrupted with mining. I want this area kept the way I recall seeing it 5, 10 and 15 years ago. Preserve it for future generations. Pleasedo not distort it for any amount of money, it will not be worth the price other generations will pay

Jan Beekman

Life is always moving forward – the secret is to change with it. World population growth is inevitable and so is the demand for energy.

Coal can be mined, transported and used in an environmentally sustainable and safe way – it just costs more and requires input from a lot of concerned people.

I advocate that the people of Alaska partake in discussions with the miners and local authorities with the aim to work together to establish sustainable production that benefit the environment and the people of Alaska and equally as important set the basis to stage a world class coal mine in touch with the environment and people that others can follow.

You can sit back and let the world pass you by or you can fight it or you can partake to make it a world class Alaskan showcase project of how to do things right.

Mona S Casselman

What an excellent article on a situation I knew nothing about!
Thank you.

Andrew Brown

Why are we investing in a coal mine for Asia anyhow? I believe wild Salmon and pristine wild lands are more valuable than energy for Asia.

Jack Donachy

Keep fighting! And thank you!
Jack & Barbra Donachy


I know what you’re talking about….In my country i have watched a lot of areas destroyed by mining…..I have already heard about the “environmentally sustainable” thing…That’s not true…Keep strong!