(Russ Maddox is an Alaska Chapter Sierra Club volunteer.)
As the rest of the nation wakes up and begins to realize how damaging wanton handling and disposal of coal ash truly is, regulators and leaders in Alaska continue to keep their heads buried in the sand, or in this case, coal ash.
The forests of Alaska’s interior fueled the early gold rush. When they became scarce the railroad was pushed south to the coal fields of Nenana to fuel the steamships, massive dredges necessary to access and extract the gold.
These days it’s difficult to tell which hills are natural and which are just massive piles of mine tailings and waste. Along with the coal rush that fueled and heated the gold rush came millions of tons of coal ash. With the majority of the lowlands being wetlands and subject to periodic floods, coal ash was seen as a valuable resource for filling in low areas for development. Peat was mined for use as topsoil to support what was once a thriving local agriculture. Coal ash was and is still routinely used to refill the leftover peat pits to prepare them for development.