Castle Mountain Coalition Celebrates Wishbone Hill Invalid Permit Ruling

Client Perspective: Judy Donegan is a resident of the Buffalo Mine Neighborhood and board member of the Castle Mountain Coalition. Here’s her story on fighting Wishbone Hill:

Judy Donegan, on the Board of the Castle Mountain Coalition, with her granddaughter on the Butte in the Matanuska Valley
Judy Donegan, on the Board of the Castle Mountain Coalition, with her granddaughter on the Butte in the Matanuska Valley

Cheers could be heard up and down the Matanuska Valley and all the way to Anchorage. We were all so happy following the recent federal court decision in Castle Mountain Coalition v. the Office of Surface Mining. Just as we thought all along, the State should not have renewed Usibelli Coal Mine’s 25-year-old permits for its proposed Wishbone Hill mine. We are breathing easier for now.

It’s been a long journey, which started one evening when we were sitting rather complacently in a neighborhood meeting listening to a speaker, who suddenly, pointedly asked, “What is wrong with you people? Don’t you know there are plans for a coal mine in your neighborhood?” At first there was disbelief: surely no one would open a strip mine directly adjacent to a growing neighborhood along Buffalo Mine Road, a few miles up-wind from Palmer. But, in fact, Usibelli was planning to do just that at Wishbone Hill.

Coal Mines Don’t Belong in Neighborhoods

Frankly, we were panicked. We knew that coal mining would change, maybe destroy, our neighborhood. It would depress property values; in fact, for a time, there were questions about whether local banks would grant home mortgages in the area. The uncertainty over whether there would be a mine led some people to move away. Others probably would move if mining began. We were afraid we would be uprooted from homes we loved, many built with our own labor.

Because the mine was so close and up-wind from our homes, we knew we would suffer from air and noise pollution. In fact, Usibelli acknowledged that blasting at the mine site might break our windows!

We were concerned that a mine would undo the hard work the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council put into restoring Moose Creek, which had been heavily damaged by long-ago mining along its banks. Salmon have returned to the creek. We didn’t want them to leave again. The recreational value of the area would be lost. On top of all that, many of us worried about the effect coal was having on the earth’s climate.

We Are Thankful, But Ready to Continue to Protecting Our Homes

Right now, we are relieved that these things are not happening, and we are happy that our persistent efforts had a role in preserving our neighborhood. We are thankful that Trustee for Alaska took one of our issues and ran with it. We are all very, very grateful for the perseverance of Trustees’ attorneys Katie Strong and Brook Brisson in sticking with us.

As for the future, with the wisdom of children, my 7-year-old grandson asked me, “What are you going to fight next, Grandma?” I hope the answer can be that Castle Mountain Coalition and all of us can move on to other, less contentious pursuits and that he and other children who play in our neighborhood will never need to take up the fight. But—though we are tired now—if it becomes necessary, we will be here to ensure that my grandchildren and all the children of our neighborhood and beyond will not suffer the bad effects of coal mining and that our valley will remain a beautiful and healthy place to live.


Read more about Wishbone Hill and Trustee’s work to protect neighborhoods.