by Rebecca Palsha
11:13 AM AKST, January 19, 2011
Emotional testimony was heard Wednesday night at a public hearing in Kenai hosted by the state Department of Natural Resources about a plan to develop the Chuitna coal mine, about 45 miles west of Anchorage.
Dozens of people spoke in favor of a petition to designate the lands near Beluga and Tyonek as unsuitable for coal mining, which would derail Pacrim Coal's plans for a strip coal mine in an area that has an active salmon stream.
Testimony got under way this afternoon and, one by one, it was obvious the vast majority of people at the meeting did not support the mine.
"Once you do damage to the environment, as the strip mining would do, you can never get it back restored to its original state again," said Kathy East, who offered testimony at the hearing.
The proposed coal mine could produce 300 million metric tons of coal over a 25-year lifespan near the small communities of Beluga and Tyonek -- which residents see as a threat to the almon stream.
"These fish have been providing for people and this coal mine is going to eliminate their habitat, and once they dig the coal out, the coal is gone; the fish is gone," said John Margareta, who offered testimony against the mine.
Pacrim Coal wants to remove 11 miles of Middle Creek. Company officials say residents don't have to choose between fish or coal.
"Prior to starting mining, one of the first things we'll do is construct a habitat below the mine area," said the company's Dan Graham. "The fish areas that are offset within the mine site will be replaced with habitat below the mine site."
The company says it understands people's fears about possible pollution and destruction of the salmon runs.
"The concern for fish is a very valid concern; we take it seriously we've spent the last four years looking heavily at options, four examples where fish habitat and salmon habitat have been constructed, created to restore populations," Graham said.
This is the only time public testimony will be heard about a petition to designated the lands here unsuitable for coal mining. Attendees came from around the state.
"If we don't start now, Alaska will be transformed into a moonscape with poisionous sewers full of flesh-eating chemicals instead of streams full of salmon -- and the execs of Pacrim Coal and Anglo American will not lose a minute's sleep over it," said Al Hajj Frederick Minshall, who testified against the mine. "I have nothing else to say except I don't want to have to argue that this shouldn't happen anymore."
The Department of Natural Resources will makes its decision in 60 days.
Online comments are also being taken. DNR is considering adding another public comment period because of the bad weather.
Contact Rebecca Palsha at email@example.com
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