After reviewing the application for an Air Quality Control Minor Permit submitted by Usibelli Coal Mine Inc., it is obvious the information is purposely misleading to obtain the permit.

Usibelli bases much of its modeling and data collection from the onsite meteorological data collected from Oct. 23, 1988, to Oct. 31, 1991, as part of the Idemitsu Alaska Inc. Wishbone Hill Air Quality and Meteorological Monitoring Program.

Usibelli also relies on the data Idemitsu collected for air quality from Anchorage, Eagle River, North Slope and Palmer.

What Usibelli failed to mention in Idemitsu’s data was the wind monitor Idemitsu installed couldn’t give them an accurate reading because it kept blowing over. That explains the reason they had to collect data from Anchorage, Eagle River, North Slope and Palmer.

If Usibelli wanted to collect more accurate modeling data it should be from open-pit coal mining that recorded data containing fugitive dust emissions affecting residents and the surrounding environment in close proximity to a mining site.

High winds predominately from the northeast create wind-driven dust from the Mat-Su, and is exactly why the winds were given their name, the Matanuska Winds. These winds blow over thousands of residents who live downwind from the proposed mine site.

Once all trees and vegetation are removed, more wind erosion and fugitive dust emissions will occur, creating severe health issues for the close surrounding communities.

Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. said the nearest community to the mine site is Palmer, which is located about eight miles to the southwest. This is false. Palmer is about eight miles from the mine site, but is not the closest community.

The Wishbone Hill Coal Mine lease encompasses approximately 9.3 miles running east to west. I spent several days reviewing the property values adjacent the proposed lease (based on the 2010 Mat-Su Borough tax assessment) and calculated that the structures (mostly homes) were assessed at $ 80,425,600. This is a healthy community of residents, businesses, youth camps and schools.

Usibelli makes no mention of the close proximity to the residents in the area. In fact, the boundary of the mine site borders some of the residents’ property lines. This closeness, along with being downwind of the proposed mine, is a major health concern.

Usibelli said it would have signs approximately every 100 yards restricting public access along the ambient air boundary and warning of potential health hazards.

It is impossible to have health hazards on one side of a fence and say the residents who live on the other side will be safe from toxic coal dust and other chemicals that will be airborne.

On page 28 of the Dispersion Modeling Report, Usibelli states that “examining the meteorological data that no measured hourly wind speed exceeded 45 mph, and the time these few higher wind speeds occurred all in November and most on a single day coincides with likely snowcover in an area which tends to mitigate dust erosion.”

The safety of the residents should be the most important part of any proposed mining permit.

The toxic chemicals that will be used and produced through the mining process and released into the air as fugitive dust emissions poses a major health risk for residents.

The chemicals Usibelli lists on its charts are ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compound, sulfer dioxide, carbon monoxide and heavy metals in coal.

Under maximum production, the plant will be operated seven days a week with three eight-hour shifts per day, 365 days a year. Blasting will be a total of 360 blasts per year using a combination of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.

Particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10 — 2.5 considered “fine” and 10 considered “coarse” — pass through the nose and throat entering the lungs and cause severe health effects.

Usibelli has said the amount of coal processed will be 350 tons per hour by coal crushing and conveyors for transfer. This process will release toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the air that are found in the coal directly or in the layers of rock that lie above and between the coal seams.

Many of the heavy metals released in the mining of coal are environmentally and biologically toxic elements, such as lead, mercury, nickel, tin, cadmium, antimony and arsenic. The long-term exposure can result in slowly progressing physical, muscular and neurological degenerative processes that mimic Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.

Adding together Table C-3 to Table C-12, the total potential PM10 emissions were 399.75 tons per year.

Usibelli also mentions the coal fine waste it will be putting into a slurry pond, but does not go into any detail about that. Even though this is an Air Quality Permit Application, it is all connected. The slurry pond is an unlined leach system that is located on the Castle Mountain Fault Line and above the aquifer that supplies water to much of the Valley.

The reason I have gone into such detail about this application is the impact it will have on the residents. Our family knows all to well the pain of loosing five family members to coal-related illnesses (black lung, cancer) and the continuing painful medical illnesses that we deal with on a daily basis. Property destroyed by daily blasting and contaminated water from a slurry pond breach that flowed for three days, killing all forms of life in the native trout stream.

I ask you to look at recent scientific and medical data, not outdated records and misleading findings, and deny this permit.

“If a life is taken and a family destroyed by a preventable act, is it then OK to subject others to the same act?”

Bonnie Zirkle is a Palmer resident.

Editor’s note: Bonnie Zirkle submitted the following letter to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman and to the Department of Environmental Conservation as a comment on the Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. application for an Air Quality Control Minor Permit AQ1227MSS04 for the Wishbone Hill Coal Mining and Processing Operation.

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