Wishbone Hill Coal Mine

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{{#Badges: CoalSwarm}} Wishbone Hill Coal Mine is a proposed coal mine in the Matanuska Valley, Alaska, by Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. The site is approximately 5 miles west of Sutton, AK. It is estimated to contain 14 million tons of bituminous coal. A permit for exploratory drilling at the site was approved by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in July 2010. That permit has been appealed by several local organizations and tribal councils.[1]

The 800 acres for which Usibelli is currently seeking permits sit between Palmer and Sutton, within a mile of more than 100 homes. Since all the state's coal needs can be met by the Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, farther to the north in Interior Alaska, the company says coal from Wishbone Hill would be sold overseas, likely to a power company in Japan.[2] The Usibelli Coal Mine itself is planned to increase coal production from 10,000 tons a year to 2 million tons a year, with much of the coal to be exported to Asian markets through Alaska's Port of Seward.[3]

As of January 2017 the validity of the mine’s permit had been deemed invalid by a federal judge, and placed under review by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. This followed the successful lawsuit brought by environmental groups, and opposition by the Chickaloon Tribal Council . [4][5]


According to GroundTruth Trekking, Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. purchased the 8000 acre Wishbone Hill Mine site in 1997 with plans to recover the coal using strip mining techniques. Usibelli Coal began exploration work in this area in the summer of 2010 and has reportedly found a potential buyer for the coal. This area was historically mined for coal as early as 1916 and was most recently mined in the 1980s. The lease area has been the site of a number of coal fires, some burning since the 1960's, and has been the focus of a multi-million dollar effort to supress the fires. West of Wishbone Hill is the site of the successful Moose Creek Salmon Restoration project, created due to previous coal mining and railroad development in the area.[6]


Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. possesses renewable exploration permits for this mine, due to be reviewed in 2011. The company would need to obtain production permits before mining, which could occur by 2012. The mine would receive power from the nearby grid and would transport coal either via truck to Seward, truck to Port MacKenzie or through creation of a new rail spur to the site. In June 2010, the Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission voted against allowing Usibelli to build an access road but later approved conditional access. The nearby Chickaloon Village Traditional Council announced that they planned to oppose all aspects of the mine. In July 2010, Usibelli was granted a permit by the DNR and began exploratory drilling in the area. In August 2010, the Athabascan tribe, the Castle Mountain Coalition, and local residents filed appeals against the July permit decision. Both exploration and creation of a feasibility study are underway.[6]

The two final permits needed for full-scale mining, through the DNR and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, may be issued by November. The Mat Valley Coalition consists of local residents and multiple organizations opposing the mine, and is seeking to block these permits by submitting appropriate comments, as well as submitting a petition to Governor Parnell for a Public Interest Determination.

In October 2011, Usibelli withdrew the mine application for a state air quality permit for a second time. A Usibelli spokeswoman said the company pulled the application because the state asked for more data on the possibility of windblown coal dust. If the revised permits are approved, Usibelli said the Wishbone Hill project could be up and running in 18 months to two years.[7]

In late July 2012 the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining questioned Usibelli Coal Mine Inc.’s permit to conduct coal mining at Wishbone Hill and requested more information from the Department of Natural Resources. In a letter the agency stated that there was trouble with Usibelli’s permit to mine because its permits for surface coal mining operations were issued for a term of five years, but the permit is terminated if the permittee does not begin surface coal mining operations within three years after the permit is issued.[8]

Citizen activism

Wishbone Resident Opposes Mine.

Public crowds meeting on proposed Wishbone Hill coal mine project

A public meeting to discuss the proposed Wishbone Hill Coal Mine project in Sutton by the Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. took place on September 8, 2011 in Alaska. While some at the meeting supported the mine prospect because of potential job creation, many others stated they were opposed to the mine because of environmental and health concerns. The mine is to be located about 50 miles northeast of Anchorage.

"I have no problem with people wanting jobs," said Diana Ramsted. "But, I do have a problem — a big problem — with the wind in Palmer: the wind here that's going to take coal from where the Wishbone Hill is and blow it into children's lungs."[9]

In another public meeting to discuss the Wishbone Hill Coal Mine, approximately 300 people gathered, the majority of which attended to voice concerns about the proposed mine, noting health concerns.[10]

Project Details

  • Sponsor: Usibelli Coal Mine Inc.
  • Parent Company: Joseph E. Usibelli
  • Location: Sutton, Alaska
  • GPS Coordinates: 61.5419444, -149.2297222
  • Status: Proposed
  • Production Capacity:
  • Total Resource:
  • Mineable Reserves: 14 million tons
  • Coal type: Bituminous
  • Mine Size:
  • Mine Type: Surface
  • Start Year:
  • Source of Financing:

Articles and resources


  1. Evan Shields, "Wishbone Hill Coal Mine (proposed)" CoalDiver.org, accessed November 2010.
  2. Casey Grove, "Usibelli withdraws prermit request for Sutton coal mine" Anchorage Daily News, October 22nd, 2011.
  3. "Asian demand sparks surge in Alaska mining projects" Manuel Quinones, E&E Reporter, September 12, 2011.
  4. [ https://www.alaskapublic.org/2017/01/25/future-of-wishbone-hill-coalmine-uncertain-as-permit-is-examined/ “Future of Wishbone Hill coalmine uncertain as permit is examined”], Alaska Public Media, January 25, 2017
  5. [ https://www.adn.com/business-economy/energy/2016/07/08/federal-judge-rules-against-wishbone-hill-mine-prospect/ “Federal judge rules against Wishbone Hill mine prospect”], Anchorage Daily News”, July 8, 2016
  6. 6.0 6.1 David Coil, Erin McKittrick, Bretwood Higman, "Wishbone Hill Coal Mine" GroundTruth Trekking, accessed November 2010.
  7. Casey Grove, "Usibelli withdraws prermit request for Sutton coal mine" Anchorage Daily News, October 22nd, 2011.
  8. "Federal review questions Wishbone Hill mining permits" Frontiersman.com, July 23, 2012.
  9. "Public crowds meeting on proposed Sutton coal mine" Chron.com, September 7, 2011.
  10. "Coal Mine Opponents, Supporters Gather In Sutton For Last Public Comment Hearing" Jason Lamb, KTUU.com, November 15, 2011.

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