Usibelli Coal Operating Without Valid Permit at Proposed Wishbone Hill Coal Mine

Citizen’s Letter Demands DNR Halt Usibelli’s Illegal Activities

Palmer, AK -- Local citizens fighting the controversial Wishbone Hill coal project have sent a letter to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources alleging that Usibelli Coal Company has been operating illegally and without a valid permit and should be ordered to halt project development.

Located less than five miles from thousands of Palmer and Wasilla homes, the proposed Wishbone Hill project was initially permitted in 1991, but state records clearly show that the permits expired on September 4, 1996 due to the prior permit holder’s failure to begin operations within the time frame required under Alaska law. The citizen’s letter contends that Usibelli’s current operations at Wishbone Hill are illegal, occurring over 15 years after the permits expired.

“The entire point of the law requiring mining to start within a reasonable time frame after their permits are approved is to avoid this exact situation – a company trying to start mining decades later, with outdated permits that fail to protect local communities and property owners,” said Jeremiah Millen, Executive Director of Friends of Mat Su.

“Usibelli Coal Company has tried to bill themselves as a good neighbor to Mat-Su residents, but the record clearly shows otherwise,” said Alice Ciostek, local resident and member of Friends of Mat-Su. “Continued unpermitted and illegal operations at the Wishbone Hill mine site will destroy property values and impact communities across the Mat-Su. When you consider how quickly outrage from local residents is growing, it’s no wonder they are trying to rush their project along.”

"Usibelli failed to take the steps necessary to maintain its DNR permit. This, combined with the company's failure to obtain an air quality permit from DEC, and its long record of environmental and worker safety violations, makes me wonder what kind of a neighbor UCM would really be," said Judy Donegan, a Castle Mountain Coalition supporter and resident who lives near the proposed mine.

This letter followed a controversial public hearing on Usibelli Coal Company's mining permit renewal, attended by more than 300 local citizens, the majority of whom oppose the project.

DNR is required by regulation to respond to the citizen’s letter within 10 to 15 days.

[[LEGAL BACKGROUND]]

The Alaska Surface Coal Mining Control and Reclamation Act (“ASCMCRA”) and DNR’s implementing regulations govern coal mining activities in the State. A central requirement of the law is that an operator cannot undertake surface coal mining activities without a permit from DNR; this requirement is intended to protect the public from the harmful impacts of unregulated coal mining. Permits are issued by DNR for a term of five years, and the permitee must begin coal mining within three years of receiving the permit, or within a specified time if an extension is requested and granted. Failure to begin operations within that time results in the termination of the permit. Once a permit terminates, an operator must obtain a new permit before it can undertake any coal mining activities at the site under ASCMCRA.

For more information, visit: www.matvalley.org

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