Beluga Resident Fights Dirty Coal

Judy Heilman Shares Why She is Working to Protect the Chuitna Watershed from Coal Mining

Mar 13, 2015
Lisa Oakley

CLIENT PERSPECTIVE: Judy Heilman, member of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, shares her story of why she believes it is wrong to mine through a salmon stream.

Judy and Larry Heilman pose in front of their Beluga homestead. They are fighting to keep their home of 24 years coal-free. Photo courtesy of Alaskans First.

Judy and Larry Heilman pose in front of their Beluga homestead. They are fighting to keep their home of 24 years coal-free. Photo courtesy of Alaskans First.

A home in the wilderness

Living in the small community (population 17 in the winter) of Beluga, Alaska is like a dream come true. As a child, tramping the mountains and streams of Washington state with my grandparents, and later with my own family, are some of the fondest memories I have. Living here in Beluga, surrounded by the beauty of mountains and forests, is a way of life that we love.

Beluga is 45 air miles across the Cook Inlet from Anchorage and we have to fly all of our supplies over. We have roads but none that connect us to anywhere but the rivers and gas wells that supply the Chugach power plant. Living here in this small community, we depend a lot on what we can grow or harvest from the land. We fill our freezers and pantry with salmon and moose every year. We have a good-sized garden that we depend on to harvest fresh vegetables; we can, dehydrate, and also freeze a good amount. We pick the blueberries, currants, and cranberries around the area and grow raspberries and strawberries in the garden.

Our life would change dramatically if the proposed Chuitna coal mine is permitted. The air pollution, noise level, water pollution, and destroyed salmon and moose habitats, and berry fields will impact every aspect of our way of life. With so many more people in the area, our gravel and dirt roads would be traveled extensively causing more noise and dust pollution. The beach where we have our cookouts and collect agates would be covered with coal dust. With a coal conveyor belt and a commercial dock hanging over the edge of the bluff on the beach, we wouldn’t have the same access to this area.

Out of retirement; into fighting coal

Before moving to Beluga 23 years ago, I lived in the Yakima Valley and ran a Family Day Care for over 24 years while raising my family. My expertise is in childhood development, nutrition, pre-school education, parental consoling, and all the things you need to know to be a good mom and day care provider.

My husband Lawrence worked for Chugach Electric for 27 years as their Welding Specialist before retiring. He also taught himself how to build a log home from trees cut in the area around our property. He is a “Mr. Fixit” when it comes to anything around the home. Or ask him about hunting and fishing and he can help you out.

As you can see we had no background in what came to our door one day back in 2007. Fighting to stop PacRim’s proposed coal strip mine was not what we had planned to do in our retirement years.

Chuitna Citizens Coalition

We have been so blessed with having good people to help the Chuitna Citizens Coalition in this coal fight. Time after time, Trustees for Alaska has come to our rescue. They have always been there to explain something that is way out of our learning curve and to get the information that will help us fight and stop this proposed coal mine. Without them on our team, I really believe we would have had shovels in the ground digging up coal already. Trustees for Alaska keeps finding ways to put up road blocks to stop PacRim from rolling over us.

The water reservation application has been a long fight for Trustees for Alaska but they have stood their ground, and the Department of Natural Resources finally had to process our applications and give us a comment period so we can tell them that Alaskans want salmon, not coal.

We aren’t spring chicks anymore and we would really like for this damn coal to be out of our life. It would be so wonderful not to worry about stopping a coal mine and just go visit the grandkids for long periods of time. When we leave the state now we keep on top of what is happening with this coal fight. It’s never out of our minds no matter where we are. It’s like a bad nightmare that you just can’t wake up from. To have this threat gone would be like having Christmas every day.

But then we sure would miss all the good people, like our friends at Trustees for Alaska, who we have met on this journey through the years. It will be so wonderful to have all our coal fight friends come to Beluga to visit—and not have to talk coal.

 

Learn more about Chuitna Citizens Council’s fight to stop PacRim from mining through a salmon stream.

 

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