Coal Strip Mine Would Destroy Salmon Streams in Cook Inlet

Cook InletPacRim 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

12 thoughts on “Coal Strip Mine Would Destroy Salmon Streams in Cook Inlet”

  1. I sincerely hope that they put a stop to this plan. Our planet is slowly but surely choking from toxic emissions from the burning of coal to produce power. Go nuclear!

  2. Pac Rim plans on open pit mining 350 ft. deep they also have submited , that they will have to pump some 7 million gals. of water per day to dee water the coal field. Pac Rim also has has ask to mine through 11 miles of salmon streems. The study shows that in middle creek alone 20 percent of the silver salmon are sponded. if you would look at salmon sponing study they winter for some two to three years befor they come back out to the ocean. the plans on file that any one can look up, are to mine for 25 years plus and no plans to ever remove the infrastructure. This mining project will kill the Chuitna.

  3. Sorry, LWPalmer, & HippyHater[sic],

    I’m not buying your discount goods. “We who LIVE here” are not doing that great a job of protecting what is vital to ALL Americans. (Palin?… Really?) Too many exploiters of the resources, not enough stewards of the environment there to turn our back on this beautiful, critical last frontier. You didn’t inherit Alaska from your ancestors, you borrowed it from your descendants.

  4. Strip mining is a disgusting process that has destroyed large areas of land across the country! The people who don’t think this is a big deal are not going to want to live anywhere near it and usually don’t have to come into direct contact with the destruction, so what do they care? Growth and development ARE possible without ravaging the land!

    Green energy creates hundreds of thousands of jobs! And it is not just about the animals – YOU suffer from the acid rain, smog, raised energy costs to pay for the mining, the erosion caused by loss of wetland and eventually, wandering around looking for a piece of untouched land to appreciate.

    A coal mine takes 10 years to pay itself back – a wind farm takes 2.

    A coal mine can never be used for another purpose after it is tapped – whereas geothermal and wind and solar powers leave the land open for other options.

    And YOU Alaskans who LIVE there, are already starting to suffer from the loss of permafrost – ie you guys built on top of the frozen land and now the land – is UNFREEZING! That means potentially millions of dollars in damage and loss as buildings literally sink in the mud. And guess what perpetuates this melting? The CO2 in the air from- ready – burning COAL! (among other things!!)

    So, I am happy for you that you can see Russia from your houses – but coal mining isn’t GROWTH or DEVELOPMENT – it is re-using old solutions to energy that have been proven to cause destruction and irreparable damage to not just the fish and the land – but YOU.

  5. They divert salmon streams all the time. It actually helps bring the slamon stock up to higher levels as you can create a stream that can natually increase the amount of salmon spawning and fry survival rates. Though it may sound bad, creating a new stream will natually return to its original state and its food web also will reurn quite quickly. Most streams have major flooding events that chnage there course all the time. If the article had more information I could go on, but all the information is meaningless as it is “reports”, no studies. Oh I forgot its a blog

  6. What a croc.
    The permitting for this project was approved by EPA, DEC, and the ACOE.
    What do we pay these agencies to do?
    Then, along comes Trustees for Alaska–a no growth, anti-development organization, and wa la, poof, a scientist who disagrees with the resident engineers and scientists of the aforementioned.
    Stay out of Alaska!
    We who LIVE here can take care of Alaska.

  7. Wow, I guess the people in the area must be up in arms! I would be too. If anyone knows of any protests or actions against this mining proposal going through please let me know!


  8. “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.”

    With that being the case…then how is their proposal in the advanced stages of permitting?!? With just the information you list, it really makes me wonder what these people are thinking. Or are they even thinking?

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