By Jenny Neyman
Judy and Lawrence Heilman, of Beluga, have gotten used to feeling ignored in their fight to stop PacRim Coal’s Chuitna mine project, the proposed strip mine that could cover about 30 square miles in the Beluga Coal Fields near the communities of Tyonek and Beluga.
The proposed Pebble Mine, with its better-funded opposition, has garnered more attention and oppositional support, while it seems the Chuitna Mine project has barely registered on even other environmental groups’ radar, much less the consciousness of the rest of the state, Judy Heilman said. Much of their five-year battle has felt like shouting into the wind.
But on Jan. 19, those winds shifted, and the Heilmans heard a big response to their calls. About 150 people showed up at a public hearing in Kenai held by the Department of Natural Resources to gather feedback on a petition to designate certain lands within the Chuitna project area as unsuitable for coal mining. The position was filed by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of Cook Inletkeeper and the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, of which Judy is president.
People drove through a snowstorm from Anchorage, communities in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and other areas of the peninsula. They flew over Cook Inlet from Beluga, tried to fly from Tyonek — weather kept some planes grounded — and people came out from their homes in the central peninsula area. Of the 130-plus people who gave public testimony at the meeting, only one spoke in favor of the mine. All others spoke in favor of the petition, which seeks to have salmon streams and habitat within the Chuit River watershed protected from surface coal mining.
“Seeing all of you here makes me cry. Thank you. When we first started this fight, we thought we were alone,” Judy said, as she started her five-minute window of testimony in the three-plus-hour meeting. Continue reading