MAT-SU — In the Canyon Creek area, 18 miles southwest of Skwentna and six miles southwest of Shell Lake, the state Department of Natural Resources is eyeing a potential 13,175-acre lease for coal development.

“This whole thing has been prompted by the fact that we did receive a request by a company for coal leases in that Canyon Creek area,” said Bill Cole with DNR’s mining section. “In some cases for various reasons we don’t do anything, but in many cases, including this one, we do pursue it.”

The department put out a preliminary decision to put the leases out for a competitive sale. Which is to say, that Alaska Energy Corp., the company that inquired about the coal leases, won’t necessarily be the company that wins the bid for them.

A search of Alaska corporate licenses shows Alaska Energy Corp. lists as affiliates or officers CanAm Coal Corp. of Calgary and both CanAm’s chief executive officer and chief financial officer.

CanAm, according to its website, has three mines operating in Alabama and has rights to some coal in Colorado.

As for the land near Skwentna, people who want to comment on the proposed lease have until Nov. 21. There will also be a public hearing for the lease sale Nov. 13 at Wendler Middle School in Anchorage.

If you want to know what exactly you’re commenting on, DNR has put together a 170-page report that’s available on its website.

“We’ve put together a preliminary best interest finding and decision which is just that, it’s preliminary,” Cole said.

DNR’s practice is to solicit input on that finding and respond to every comment made.

“We don’t necessarily respond to every single individual,” he said. “If we get a common comment from a number of people we will respond once.”

The next step is the commissioner’s office. If he approves it goes to an appeals period.

“People who are affected by the decision and who have participated in the public process by making comment, either through writing, in email, or by testimony at the public hearing, are able to appeal,” Cole said.

Once that appeals period is up, the decision is effective and the sale moves forward, first with a public notice.

Cole said lease sales like this aren’t too common. A couple years back the department got as far as the appeals period on a project on the north flank of the Brooks Range.

That one is still being appealed.

“A few years ago we had a small auction for just a 40 acre parcel up near Sutton, but outside of that I don’t know when we last had a coal lease sale,” he said of another instance.

There is one other project even less far along than the Skwentna sale.

“We have also worked on a preliminary decision for underground coal gasification in the Point MacKenzie area, but that one has not been finalized for release to public notice so it hasn’t gone out yet,” Cole said.

Contact reporter Andrew Wellner at andrew.wellner@frontiersman.com or 352-2270.

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