Letter to the Editor: Chickaloon Village Traditional Council and Castle Mountain Coalition Appeal DN

Dear Editor,

Today my client, a Federally Recognized Athabascan Tribe, Chickaloon Village Traditional Council (“CVTC”), along with the Castle Mountain Coalition and individual local Mat-Su residents filed appeals to DNR’s July 7, 2010 decision to allow Usibelli Mine, Inc. (“Usibelli”) to allow coal exploration activities in the Wishbone Hills near Sutton, Alaska. This appeal asks DNR to rescind its approval until and unless DNR and Usibelli comply with State and Federal law, enter into consultation with CVTC, and allow for public comment.

CVTC’s appeal challenges DNR to go back and take the hard look required by State and Federal law at the impacts of exploration on the constitutionally protected religious and cultural rights of CVTC members.

Among other issues, CVTC’s appeal focuses on the failure of DNR to consult with CVTC, its failure to adequately consider exploration’s impacts on CVTC’s religious and cultural practices within and adjacent to the permit area, DNR’s failure to take into account affects on historic, cultural and archeological resources and sacred sites, and the failure to take measures to protect salmon and salmon habitat restoration efforts jointly undertaken by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and CVTC. Additionally,

CVTC joined the Castle Mountain Coalition in challenging DNR’s failure to take into account the increasingly residential character of the area, the health and welfare impacts of increased mining and heavy equipment traffic, and the faulty and incomplete baseline data produced by Usibelli.

CVTC’s culture has been under attack from coal mining for more than a century. This latest attack by Usibelli hardly comes as a surprise to CVTC. In the early 1900’s the US Navy and coal miners brought alcohol, disease, and destruction to Chickaloon’s people. Survivors soon discovered that coal mining had destroyed the spawning habitat of the salmon they relied on for cultural and physical survival. It has only been since 2002 that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and CVTC have been able to begin the process of restoring salmon runs in Moose and Eska Creeks.

USFWS and CVTC have poured more than $1,000,000 and thousands of hours into restoring the salmon habitat. The return of these once great runs will benefit all Alaskans, not just the Tribe. But now, Usibelli, with help from DNR, threatens to wipe out these efforts entirely. DNR’s decision approved the use drilling compounds with known toxicity to fish and aquatic life and it failed to give adequate consideration to the salmon restoration efforts of CVTC and the USFWS.

Ignoring its obligations under Federal law to consult with the Tribe, DNR allowed Usibelli to roll its bulldozers and heavy equipment into the permit area before the expiration of time period for appealing its decision! Regrettably, this violation of Due Process is not out of the ordinary for DNR. DNR made its “Final Decision” to allow exploration just one day after Usibelli submitted an updated application. No public comment period was allowed on Usibelli’s changes. To make matters worse, as the appeal was being filed, DNR admitted that the fax number posted in the Decision (used for filing the appeal) had been “taken down” more than a week before! Evidently, DNR does not place a high value on the public’s right to have input on mining projects.

CVTC filed this appeal in order to protect its members’ constitutional and human right to the free exercise of their religion, to protect the health and welfare of its members, to protect sacred sites and irreplaceable cultural resources, and in order to protect the wildlife central and necessary to the Athabascan way of life. Because DNR failed to take these considerations into account when it approved Usibelli’s permit, today we ask Commissioner Irwin to put a halt to Usibelli’s exploration activity. With the law on our side, we fully expect that result.

Contacts: Geoffery A. Stauffer

907-868-1859 (Anchorage) or

1-888-419-4558 (toll free),

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Angela Wade:

907-745-0737

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