CHICKALOON-Procedural errors have stalled the development of the Jonesville coal mine near Chickaloon. The Department of Natural Resources had issued a permit allowing operations to begin at the Jonesville coal mine but has since withdrawn the permit.
Joseph Balash, DNR Deputy Commissioner, stated, “After a review of some of the procedural items we decided we need to withdraw the final decision that was issued previously, and reconsider that and issue a new one.”
The procedural items, according to Geoffrey Stauffer, is DNR’s failure to respond to comments. Stauffer is the attorney representing the Traditional Village of Chickaloon. Chickaloon as well as several other groups such as Pacific Environment the Castle Mountain Coalition, have opposed the restart of the Jonesville coal mine.
The Jonesville mine, first begun by Evan William Jones, in 1920, was used to supply Anchorage, the military base and then Alaska Railroad with coal for their operations. It was very active through the 20s, the 30s and even continued on until 1968 when it was finally closed down because its customers switched to natural gas for electrical generation. During its lifetime the mine produced 5.5 million tons of coal.
Jonesville suffered a serious explosion in October of 1937, according to Z.J. Loussac, then the vice-president of the company, 14 men were killed in the explosion. Only six bodies, burned and mangled beyond recognition, were recovered. The cause of the explosion was never ascertained.
The mine was sporadically explored during the 1990s and through to the early 2000s. The coal mine, and two other parcels, measuring 1,450 acres, was acquired by Australian-based Black Range Minerals in 2008. They intend to ship the high-grade bituminous coal produced from that site to Seward and on to Asian Pacific rim customers.
The village of Chickaloon and other groups do not want the mine to re-open. They cite concerns of groundwater pollution, and salmon habitat destruction.
Even though the permit was withdrawn, it doesn’t mean everything will start over. Balash states, “After a review of some of the procedural items we decided we need to withdraw the final decision that was issued previously, and reconsider that and issue a new one.”