Federal judge rules against Wishbone Hill mine prospect – by Alex DeMarban (Alaska Dispatch News – July 9, 2016)


A federal judge has dealt a blow to an Alaska mining operator hoping to extract coal from the Wishbone Hill prospect near Palmer, ordering a federal agency to revisit a 2014 decision that allowed Usibelli to hold onto its 25-year-old permit though development had not occurred in a timely manner.

State officials said the next step is an administrative process by the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation and Enforcement that could determine the validity of the permit. Conservation groups involved in the lawsuit said the next logical step will be a cessation order stopping the project because the company has no valid permit.

“The Office of Surface Mining will have to issue a cessation unless the state finds new evidence that mining happened within the proper time frame,” said Katie Strong, staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska, which represented conservation groups in the case. “But the state and Usibelli said no mining started until June 2010, so there aren’t circumstances here that will cause the permits to still be valid.”

The project, located about 8 miles from Palmer and 5 miles from Sutton, was initially permitted in 1991. Two other mining companies held the original permits before they were transferred to Usibelli in 1997.

Usibelli, longtime operator of a coal mine near Healy, built a road to the Wishbone Hill mine site in 2010. U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled Thursday that federal law is clear. Mining operations should have begun within three years after the permit was issued, unless the permit was extended, she said The permit has not been extended since 1996.

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