Residents of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Chickaloon Tribal citizens celebrated a U.S. District Court decision today rejecting the Office of Surface Mining’s conclusion that Usibelli’s 25-year-old permit for its Wishbone Hill coal strip mine was valid. The decision gives these community members a voice on a project that could drastically change life in the Mat-Su.
The Matanuska-Susitna Valley is located in southcentral Alaska.
“The Matanuska Valley is a wonderful place to call home and to raise a family,” said Amy O’Connor. “This decision is a victory for the people of the Mat-Su and helps make sure we have the tools we need to protect our high quality of life.”
The Wishbone Hill area has also been important to the people of the Chickaloon Native Village, a federally-recognized Ahtna Athabascan Tribe, for thousands of years. Tribal citizens live, hunt, fish, educate their children, and perform spiritual and cultural activities on land near the proposed mine.
The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) states that if a company doesn’t start mining within three years, the permit expires. Though its permit was issued in 1991, Usibelli did not even start building a road until 2010.
“The population of the Mat-Su borough has more than doubled since the original permit for the Wishbone Hill Coal Strip Mine was issued. In that time several neighborhoods have been developed within one mile of the proposed strip mine,” said Judy Donegan. “Building a coal strip mine adjacent to homes where children play every day is a dangerous proposition. A new permit application gives residents a chance to examine and provide input on whether there should be a coal mine in the neighborhood. This is especially important given the population growth in the area.”
“It’s shameful that DNR and OSM have allowed this outdated permit to remain in place,” said Lisa Wade, a Member of the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, the Tribal government for the Chickaloon Native Village. “Usibelli is trying to start up a toxic coal strip mine on lands that are sacred to us, using a permit that was issued 25 years ago. This mine threatens our children’s health, our salmon, our water and air quality, our traditions, and our way of life.”
In summer of 2012, residents applauded a preliminary decision by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) that the decades-old mining permit for Wishbone Hill was no longer valid and the company would have to halt operations. In a decision that shocked and disappointed local residents, OSM reversed the decision in November of 2014. In today’s decision, the Court ruled that OSM incorrectly interpreted the law and the permit for Wishbone Hill is no longer valid.
“Usibelli’s proposed Wishbone Hill coal strip mine threatens our quality of life and the health of our families,” said Amy O’Connor. “From putting a dangerous coal truck on our roads every 15 minutes to filling the air our children breathe with toxic coal dust, this proposal would drastically reduce quality of life in the Mat-Su. We’re thrilled that today’s decision will give us the opportunity to weigh in on a project that could so heavily impact our everyday lives.”