Snowbird Resort Owner Proposes Coal Mine: Environmental Groups Incensed

Posted By: The Ski Channel on August 18, 2009 12:35 pm


Richard Bass, the owner of the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Utah has proposed a huge coal strip-mining operation on Alaska’s Chuitna River, and his intentions have drawn negative public attention. Several environmental groups are concerned about the mine’s contribution to global warming.

Bass has partnered with William H. Hunt to form PacRim Coal LLC, which has submitted permit applications to build a coal mine directly on top of 11 miles of prime salmon fisheries feeding the Cook Inlet. Nearly all the coal excavated from the mine, located about 45 miles from Anchorage, would be exported to coal markets in China and other Pacific Rim countries. According to environmental groups, the Chuitna mine would produce more than 12 million tons of coal annually, which when burned, would emit more than 27 million tons of carbon dioxide.

“It’s sadly ironic that the owner of a business that is solely dependent upon heavy snowfall and consistent winters is pushing a project that is a direct threat to the ski industry and completely contrary to the ideals of outdoor recreation,” said Ryan Demmy Bidwell, of the Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition. “Coal is the single largest source of global warming pollution on the planet. We’re already seeing impacts on climate and weather patterns in the West.”

Snowbird has long been an active participant in the National Ski Area Associations Sustainable Slopes program, whose environmental initiatives include reducing greenhouse gas emissions from resorts in order to protect the climate. In this light, Bass’ mine proposal doesn’t make much sense.

“Snowbird has been one of the leading ski areas in terms of addressing global warming,” said Mark Clemens with the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. “In fact, they were the top award recipient from the NSAA in 2007. That’s what makes this proposed coal mine by Mr. Bass so troubling.”

In addition to its contributions to global warming, the mine would destroy one of Alaska’s most productive salmon fisheries. According to scientific analyses of the mine’s impacts, it is unlikely that the river’s fishery would recover from mining damage. This year, the Chuitna River was one of the few rivers in the Cook Inlet region where fisherman enjoyed a healthy king salmon run. But if the mine is built, the studies determined, damage done directly to the streams and approximately 30 square miles of surrounding riparian habitat within the watershed would be irreversible.

“We want to keep Utah cool and Alaska wild,” said Dan Ritzman, the Western Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “We aim to show that sparing the climate hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 pollution and protecting this fragile fishery are better long-term investments for local economies in Utah and Alaska.”