Chuitna salmon saved!
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Chuitna salmon saved!

In our line of work, good news often comes in small packages.

This time it came in a status update from PacRim Coal, LP.  For years, the company has been seeking a permit to mine through 14 miles of salmon streams in the Chuitna River watershed across Cook Inlet from Anchorage.

In a single sentence of fewer than 30 words, PacRim announced that it would no longer pursue a permit. In other words, it will finally walk away from an ill-conceived coal mining project.

“Trustees for Alaska has been working to protect the Chuitna River from this project for over a decade,” said Katie Strong, an attorney with Trustees for Alaska. “It’s rare in our work to have a definitive moment when you know your work was successful, when you know an area is protected. We get to enjoy that moment now with the Chuitna.”

The Chuitna is protected

Yes, the coal will always be there and others may want to mine it, but the immediate threat to the area, its fisheries and its communities has evaporated.

“It just shows that persistence and resilience pay off,” Strong added. “Collaboration and cohesion works when people want to protect water, land, fish and communities.”

Protecting streams from coal mining

Trustees for Alaska got involved with the Chuitna mine project in the 1980s. Trustees later challenged a coal mining permit issued by the State of Alaska and won in court in 1992. After that, the project lay dormant until PacRim came back seeking new permits in 2006.

Aerial photo of Middle Creek, a tributary of the Chuitna River where PacRim hopes to remove all the water to extract coal. Photo courtesy of Alaskans First.The mine plans included destroying over 14 miles of Middle Creek, a salmon bearing stream, and 1,361 acres of high-functioning valuable wetlands that provide rearing and over-wintering habitat for fish. It also involved digging 300 feet down to existing coal seams that lie directly below Middle Creek. It would have been the first time in Alaska that a project mined directly through salmon-bearing streams.

Pac Rim’s decision is the right one. People want clean water, clean energy, safe and stable jobs, and healthy fisheries. The proposed strip coal mine would have devastated streams and the subsistence, commercial, and sports fisheries that sustain Alaska communities. It also would have contributed significantly to greenhouse gases due to the burning of 30 million metric tons of low-grade coal.

Keeping coal in the ground and saving our salmon deserve fanfare, so we invite you to celebrate the good news by sharing it.