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Valley Residents Question Proposed Coal Mining Land Lease

October 07, 2011|By Chris Klint and Christine Kim | Channel 2 News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority offered to lease more than 11,000 acres of Mat-Su Valley land for coal exploration Friday -- but with one coal project already proposed in the area, locals are objecting to the idea of another.

According to the Mental Health Trust Land Office, a division within the state Department of Natural Resources, the single 11,487-acre tract near Chickaloon up for lease is believed to contain bituminous coal. Leasing the land is meant to raise funds for the trust’s beneficiaries, including people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic alcoholism and other substance-related disorders, Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, and brain injuries from traumatic head injury.

"The Mental Health Trust is set up to provide services for folks in Alaska who have mental health needs and fit under the five different categories of need, and those folks then would have access to provisions in the state instead of needing to go outside Alaska," said Deputy Director of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Marcie Menefee. 

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If the lease takes place, the trust expects to receive an annual $45,948 -- or $4 an acre -- in rent, as well as 5 percent of the gross value of any coal mined and sold from the land.

The Chickaloon Village Traditional Council says the coal should be kept where it is, underground. Shawna Larson, a tribal council member, says there's a huge concern with health issues that come with coal mining.

"There was a lot of environmental damage that occurred due to the original mining and railroad that came in and essentially our tribe has spent the last 100 years trying to recover from that," said Larson. "And to see projects like this being proposed again when we know that there are health probelems that are associated with toxic coal dust and several other problems, our tribe is very concerned, not only for our citizens' health, but for our future generations and our culture and our connection to the land itself."

The proposal comes as work continues on Usibelli Coal Mine’s proposed Wishbone Hill project near Palmer, which was approved by the Mat-Su Borough Assembly in June 2010 despite concerns from its neighbors. In a packed public meeting on the project last month, some residents said they were worried about possible environmental issues from Wishbone Hill, while others said it would produce high-paying jobs for the area.

The trust is accepting written public comment on the proposed lease until 2 p.m. Nov. 7, as well as leasing proposals for the land until Dec. 16. Details on how to submit comments, as well as documents about the lease area, are available on the trust land office’s website.

Contact Christine Kim at ckim@ktuu.com

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