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Wishbone Hill Coal Mine

Last Modified: 24th September 2014

Background

The Wishbone Hill Mine is a proposed mine site in the Matanuska Valley approximately 5 miles west of downtown Sutton, AK.  The site is on the border of the Sutton/Alpine and Buffalo/Soapstone Community Council boundaries and is less than a mile from a residential area.  Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. began exploration work in this area in the summer of 2010 and has already found a probable buyer for the coal. This area was historically mined for coal as early as 1916 and was most recently mined in the 1980s (at Premier Mine).  The lease area has been the site of a number of coal fires, some burning since the 1960's, and has been the focus of a multi-million dollar effort to supress the fires.

Maps showing land ownership plots near proposed Wishbone Hill mine sites (green) as well as trails in the area (purple).

In 1997 Usibelli purchased the 8000 acre Wishbone Hill Mine site, estimated to have 14 million tons of bituminous coal (as opposed to the lower grade subbituminous coal currently mined by Usibelli), that could be recovered using strip mining techniques.   However, the current mine proposed by Usibelli would only mine 6 million tons of coal, at the rate of 500,000 tons per year.

Historic mining activity along Moose Creek, running along the edge of Wishbone Hill, created impassable waterfalls and degraded salmon habitat. The Moose Creek Salmon Restoration project provided fish passage around these waterfalls and provided new in-stream and floodplain habitat. Locals are concerned re-opening of this mine would reverse their progress in restoring the creek.

Usibelli possesses renewable exploration permits for this mine, due to be reviewed in 2011. The company would need to obtain production permits before mining, which could occur as early as 2012.  The mine would receive power from the nearby grid and would transport coal either via truck to Seward, truck to Port MacKenzie or through creation of a new rail spur to the site.

Latest News

 In October 2011, Usibelli withdrew their air quality permit application, pending further studies and a valid air quality permit has not been resubmitted.  In May 2012 a coalition of environmental and citizen groups filed a lawsuit against the project, arguing that the existing mining permit is invalid.  In July 2012, the federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation told the Alaska DNR that there were concerns about the vality of the permits at Wishbone Hill.  However, the Alaska DNR has pushed back and declared that the permits are valid.

Creation of a feasibility study is currently underway, but Usibelli did not conduct exploration during the 2012 season.  In June 2014, Usibelli recieved their air quality permit but was still lacking a mining permit for the project.

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By David CoilErin McKittrickBretwood HigmanGround Truth Trekking

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Date Created: 19th April 2010