PacRim Coal’s plan to strip mine coal right through 11 miles of salmon-bearing streams in Alaska would destroy critical wetlands and headwater streams beyond the point of restoration, according to three new studies by scientists.
The salmon fisheries along the Chuit River would be severely damaged, so much so that the researchers say that restoration would be “virtually impossible”.
“There is no scientific evidence that wetlands or streams can be put back together to be living, healthy ecosystems after the kind of mining impacts described in the PacRim reports. The science just isn’t there. Experimentation should not be confused with sound, science-based knowledge.” – Dr. Margaret Palmer
The mining proposal by PacRim is in the advanced stages of permitting, and if it goes forward, it will be the first strip mining operation to excavate directly through salmon spawning habitat, setting an alarming precedent. Virtually all of the coal produced there would be shipped to the Pacific Rim (China and other countries).
According to the reports:
- It’s Not Possible: Restoring streams following mining operations is not possible. The company’s reclamation plan is based on creating a new stream that replicates the physical appearance of the original, but there is no evidence that restoring the shape of a channel will bring back the salmon runs or other essential biological functions. Past attempts at stream restoration projects involving channel modifications (with much less damage) have been unsuccessful.
- No Successful Examples: An extensive search of scientific literature, and discussions with stream restoration and in-stream flow experts did not yield a single documented example of strip-mined salmon habitat being successfully restored.
- PacRim’s Studies are Inadequate: The studies done by PacRim of the surface and groundwater are inadequate to determine impacts from strip-mining and groundwater pumping associated with mining or for restoring essential groundwater flow.
- Not Enough Data on Food Web: There are no data on the Chuit River’s food webs, including type of prey, where the prey comes from, and when and where they are important. There have been no studies on marine nutrients from salmon runs, wetlands, riparian corridors, or headwater streams in supporting the food webs, or how aquatic productivity will be affected by damage from mining.
- Insufficient Data on Salmon: Salmon populations fluctuate dramatically over decades-long cycles, and the few years of data collected is not sufficient to determine the natural ranges in salmon populations that would be affected by the Chuitna coal strip mine.
“Impacts from mining coal from the wetlands and forests above the Chuitna River will cause destruction of over 4,000 acres of wetlands and is highly likely to permanently change the ecosystem of the area and the productivity of the Chuitna River.” – Palmer
Opposition to the plan comes from local property owners and commercial fishermen, who say that the contamination of the Chuit River (one of America’s most endangered rivers) would ruin traditional fishing grounds and destroy local wildlife habitat and wetlands nearby.
“The law requires that the mined areas be returned to pre-mining condition after the coal has been extracted, but there is no scientific evidence that a salmon stream mined through in the manner PacRim proposes can ever be restored.” – Terry Jorgensen, commercial fisherman
For more information on the proposed mine, see Cook Inletkeeper.
Image: Alaskan Dude at Flickr under CC License