The Usibelli Coal Mine has reached a historic opencast mine reclamation milestone near Healy, Interior Alaska.
The company has been approved by the State of Alaska for the release of âPhase IIIâ bonds in its Poker Flats mining area.
Usibelli secured the release of Phase III bonds for 367 acres by successfully showing the diversity of vegetation cover for the entire area.
This means that a bond posted by the company to ensure compliance with reclamation standards has been returned to Usibelli following state certification that the area has been restored to natural habitat.
“Before starting to mine coal in the Poker Flats area near Healy nearly 40 years ago, the Usibelli Coal Mine once promised to restore the land to near-mining conditions, and has backed up his pledge with a bond worth around $ 2.5 million, âsaid Corri Feige. , Commissioner of the State Department of Natural Resources.
âThis year, MNR said that Usibelli has kept its promise by completing the last of a rigorous reclamation process and will receive approximately $ 411,000 of the remaining portion of its reclamation bond for the land that has been rehabilitated, âFeige said.
Usibelli operates an open pit coal mine at Healy where heavy equipment removes overburden and coal, the mined area then being filled and revegetated.
âThe Usibelli Poker Flats mining area is only the second area in Alaska to be approved for phase III release. The first zone was in the Usibelli Gold Run Pass mine in 2011, âsaid Joe Usibelli Jr., President of Usibelli Coal Mine.
Gold Run Pass is a separate mining area where the company previously mined coal. The company is now mining coal at âJumbo Domeâ, a third nearby mining area.
Alaska’s coal mining laws require a three-stage bonding process that operators must adhere to. Phase I involves backfilling the areas that have been excavated for mining and grading the area to approximately its original contour.
Phase II involves the seeding and planting of native trees and shrubs. Although Phase I (backfilling and grading) can take place during the first year of operation, Phase II (establishing a vegetation cover and planting trees and shrubs) can take several years.
Phase III can only be carried out after successful completion of Phases I and II and a minimum of ten years after completion of Phase II for vegetation restoration to be demonstrated.
Russ Kirkham, a senior MNR geologist and a member of the agency’s reclamation inspection team, said Usibelli worked diligently with MNR and University of Alaska officials to design an effective approach to regreening land and returning it to nature after coal mining.
Usibelli began reclaiming previously mined land years ago, even before it was required by state or federal governments. The family have lived in Healy since the 1930s and are avid stewards of the environment, Usibelli said.
âMy siblings and I grew up in Healy, in the coal mine. My grandfather, Emil, and father Joe, taught us that restoring Alaska as we found it – wild and beautiful, is the foundation of our work, âsaid Usibelli.
The primary reclamation objective of the reclamation program is to restore wildlife habitat. The animals that frequent the area are bears, moose, caribou, lynx, wolf, snowshoe hare and coyote. According to federal and state laws, coal mine operators must restore mined land to its approximate original outline and companies are required to post a bond to ensure that mined land will be reclaimed.
âGetting the State of Alaska released from Phase III bonds takes decades,â said Rich Sivils, Usibelli’s recovery engineer.
âDNR regulators are dedicated and thorough in their responsibilities to ensure that operators comply with laws and regulations,â he said.
Usibelli’s voluntary reclamation has set a standard for the Alaskan industry in recent years, but federal and state agencies have also tightened the rules.
Large companies involved in metal mining are also reclaiming the area from mines, such as Kinross Gold’s reclamation of âTrue North,â a gold deposit near the Fort Knox gold mine near Fairbanks.
Kinross and the former owners of Fort Knox also restored the waterways near the Fort Knox mine that were damaged by early placer mining.
The reclamation of mining in the lower 48 states, where mines were operated under old laws and regulations, has been a source of criticism for the industry. In Alaska, early placer mining practices damaged waterways in some areas.
âBy successfully completing the Phase III release, Usibelli has demonstrated the fundamental strength of our state’s mining development system,â Feige said.
âWe can develop our lands to produce resources to meet the state’s energy and economic needs, then restore the lands to provide healthy habitat for people and wildlife, in perpetuity. This Alaskan company continues to set an excellent standard for responsible mining, and it deserves kudos for taking this important milestone. “
The Usibelli Coal Mine is the only operating coal mine in Alaska and is located in Healy, about miles north of the entrance to Denali National Park.
Launched in 1943 by Emil Usibelli, the Usibelli coal mine is still a family business. The mine operates year round and supplies approximately one million tonnes of coal per year to six coal-fired power plants in the interior of Alaska. Usibelli employs around 100 people, most of whom live in or near Healy.