We all know the horrendous images of mountaintop removal in Appalachia and the devastation it has incurred on communities, watersheds, livelihood and overall human health and wellbeing. This is not new information.
For generations, coal companies have paid off landowners to get what they want. They come into a community knowing they will not play by the rules, but by the set of rules that enables them to pursue corporate profit to benefit the 1 percent. These ruthless acts of selfish greed force communities to take a side.
Riversdale Alaska LLC (formerly part of corporate mining giant Rio Tinto), an Australian company, currently holds the Mental Health Trust land lease for 10,000 acres of land in Chickaloon, which consists of prime moose habitat, plush berries, medicinal wild plants, recreational use, pure and aesthetic beauty and the entire watershed that surrounds the community of Chickaloon.
The Mental Health Trust is in bed with the DNR to lease the land to make money for mental health. All the Mental Health Trust is really doing is creating a mentally ill community and using the proceeds to help treat its beneficiaries, the mentally ill. Sound moronic?
In the past two weeks, Riversdale has hired FUGRO, a Canadian company, to fly two ERA A-star helicopters over Chickaloon in grid pattern doing electromagnetic readings with a submarine-like unit hanging from the helicopter. Multiple landowners have called the FAA reporting that FUGRO has been flying out of compliance and hovering dangerously low over residences barely above treetop.
This humdrum buzz of helicopters has created a stressful sense of paranoia and inability to live our lives in peace and quiet. There is no reason for the flight patterns directly over local homes. Riversdale promised this would not happen; however, corporate wealth seeking foreign companies don’t keep promises.
In addition to flying helicopters over our community, Riverdale has been on the fast track to buying out locals this week. The Chickaloon Village refused an offer from Riversdale to be bought out. However, they have bought out a few Chickaloon residents in exchange for a water well, landing and storing private helicopters on private land, and fixing our “private access” back road that connects one side of our community to the other.
Riverdale paid T and J’s in Wasilla to fix up the non-borough maintained road without notice to landowners, our community council or waiting for its exploration permit to be permitted. Riversdale is already acting like every other foreign coal company and doing what it pleases. It is commonplace for rich multi-nationals like Rio Tinto to buy out and suppress locals by dummying down their intelligence and convincing them they need a little candy money. However, this addiction to a “better, more prosperous life” feeds ignorance and dependence on unsustainable and destructive habits. Every example in history shows how coal destroys communities, leaves a toxic mess and only fills pockets of the corporate slaves.
In this particular situation, the MHT has sold out to a foreign coal company with plans to send coal to China or Japan. This foreign company plans to use our one and only local road in Chickaloon, but does not pay any tax to the borough. This is commonplace for rich multi-national resource development corporations. They have no investment in the community, but instead think they can buy people out to create a “better” future. Forcing neighbors to sell out creates a horrible dynamic within a community.
I did not move here because I wanted a “better” life someday. I did not move here with hopes of getting paved roads in the future, a school or even fire service. I moved here because Chickaloon is what it is. Chickaloon consists of a unique variety of people who moved and settled here for various reasons. The main reason being the stunning beauty of Castle and King mountains, quiet peaceful nature, ability to live simply and abundantly with little income from real wild resources like wild game, salmon, berries and plants, and the strength of a community that loves, respects and cherishes its home.
We did not move here for jobs. We moved here to live a mostly subsistence and modern-day homestead lifestyle. This lifestyle is threatened by coal exploration. I have worked every hour of every day for the past 10 years on this land to create a livelihood that benefits the land, my community and my family. No one can begin to understand the motivation, dedication and determination necessary to make and do everything for yourself — especially a company like Riversdale. We do not have a price tag and will not be bought or sold. Any prospects Riversdale has of convincing locals of a better life with its Aussie dollars is blind to the reality that the price tag carries a weight that will drag us down for decades to come.
Just ask Riversdale how well liked it is at home in Australia, where the company forced farmers to sell out for greedy corporate interests. Research Riversdale’s swindling and community relocation efforts in Mozambique for its resource development profits. Riversdale’s only skills are manipulation, intimidation and corruption. It knows how to get what it wants and leave us with the mess.
If resource development enthusiasts really think mining coal in this beautiful and unique Matanuska Valley is a good idea, perhaps they should visit China or West Virginia to see for themselves. Smog, toxic air and heavy metal contaminated water, coal dust, compromised health and inevitable impacts to the land, its inhabitants and communities are not included in the Chickaloon Community Comprehensive Plan. Supporting coal creates more of a dependency on consumer culture. Until we change the unsustainable and dangerously false paradigm from coal benefiting our communities to the real truth pointing toward its real long-term impacts, community members will continue to be bribed and beaten down into giving up everything they have worked and lived for.
Riversdale is ripping out our hearts and expects us to kneel down begging for forgiveness in the form of a check with multiple zeros. Riversdale should go back to Australia and stop forcing our community to sell out. Stop creating consumption for corporate profit without considering community.
We choose to live deliberately and intentionally in this beautiful valley that provides our livelihood and not walk down the desperate path of sorrow. Go home, Riversdale, and take the easy way out.
Allie Barker is a Chickaloon resident.