SUTTON — The U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, Denver field division manager Kenneth Walker questioned Usibelli Coal Mine Inc.’s permit to conduct coal mining activities at Wishbone Hill and requested more information from the Department of Natural Resources.

An 11-page letter details the initial evaluation by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which says the trouble with Usibelli’s permit to mine predates its purchase of the permits.

Under A.S. 27.21.060 (a), permits for surface coal mining operations are issued for a term of five years, but the permit terminates by operation of law if a permittee does not begin surface coal mining operations within three years after the permit is issued.

OSM’s initial evaluation found that in January 1996, North Pacific Mining Corp. owned the permits to mine at Wishbone Hill after acquiring them from Idemitsu Alaska in September 1995.

Among the evidence is a letter dated Jan. 1, 1996, in which NPMC wrote to DNR that it would “like to extend the existing permit without any major revision.”

However, NPMC’s letter to DNR did not specifically request an extension to begin mining activities, nor did it specify how a request for an extension to the deadline to begin mining.

DNR followed the legal process set out in AS 27.21.070 (b) when it granted an extension in August 1994 of the permit to commence mining. That permit was extended to Sept. 4, 1996.

Preliminary findings in the initial federal review say that valid permits held by NPMS for surface coal mining operations at Wishbone Hill terminated on Sept. 4, 1996; DNR thereafter erroneously transferred and renewed invalid permits; the permits currently held by Usibelli are invalid; and, in June 2010, Usibelli conducted surface coal mining activities at the mine without valid permits in violation of Alaska statute.

“It’s possible, however, that these apparent defects may be remedied by supplementation of the record submitted to OSM,” Walker’s July 19 letter says.

The review began in December 2011 after OSM received two separate letters allegeding that prior mining permits at the site terminated in 1996; that DNR had erroneously renewed the terminated permits on multiple occasions; the renewal permits 01-89-796 and 02-89-796 currently held by Usibelli are thus invalid; in June 2010, Usibelli conducted surface coal mining activities at the mine without valid permits in violation of A.S. 27.21.060 (a).

In response to those letters, OSM sent DNR two 10-day notices on Dec. 20, 2011, requesting more information about Usibelli renewal permits 01-89-796 and 02-89-796.

 

Contact managing editor Heather A. Resz at 352-2268 or heather.resz@frontiersman.com.

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