Usibelli coal project sparks neighbor's protest

Posted: Sunday, April 04, 2010

WASILLA - Usibelli Coal Mine is planning exploratory work on a project in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough that has sparked protest by neighboring landowners.

Usibelli, Alaska's largest coal producer, owns the lease to 8,100 acres of the project site between Palmer and Sutton. Company officials say the area named Wishbone Hill is believed to hold up to 14 million tons of high-quality coal.

Project manager Rob Brown said Usibelli is planning a full-scale operation there by surveying for a new access road and drilling exploratory holes this summer. The state Department of Natural Resources in 1992 issued Usibelli a permit to mine coal from the area.

Some local residents are vocal about their opposition.

Bonnie Zirkle, who owns a bed-and-breakfast less than a mile from the project site, said she worries about the noise and the effect blasting would have on her property. She also worries that the dust from trucks and blasting will be blown west for miles.

"We just can't see any benefits of doing it there," she said.

Brown said miners will blast the hard rock only when necessary and will try to time that activity when people are likely to be away from home.

He said it's premature to address specific concerns because final plans are still not set.

More people live closer to the mine now than in 1992, Brown said, but the mining permit has to go up for renewal every five years. The permit is up for renewal in 2011, well before any serious mining operation would begin.

Besides public comment periods for both air quality and mining permits, Usibelli is holding its own information sessions.

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