Aurora Energy Services LLC and the Alaska Railroad Corp. reached a settlement agreement Dec. 8 with Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the club in a Dec. 8 statement.
The agreement resolves a nearly six-year-old lawsuit brought under the Clean Water Act to address coal spilled from the facility into Resurrection Bay, the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park.
In September 2014, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that coal spilled from the facility was not authorized under the companies’ only Clean Water Act permit, a general stormwater permit. Aurora and the Alaska Railroad petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the Ninth Circuit decision. In June 2015, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, leading to the settlement.
After the lawsuit was filed in December 2009, the facility took some initial steps to address its discharges, including installing a drip pan beneath a portion of the conveyor where coal would otherwise spill into the Bay. In response to the lawsuit, Aurora also applied to Alaska regulators in January 2015 for a permit regulating the coal spilled from the facility.
In addition to committing the companies to make facility improvements, the settlement requires the companies to fund conservation projects in the Resurrection Bay watershed carried out by the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust.
Russ Maddox, longtime Seward resident and Sierra Club volunteer, said: “This outcome has been so long in the making; we filed the original suit in 2009. As recently as December 2014, the companies’ own dive report found a layer of coal on the seafloor beneath the conveyor so deep that their core sample couldn’t reach the bottom. First the companies denied there was a problem, then they wasted millions of dollars fighting a losing court battle, now finally they’re beginning to take responsibility for their actions.”
Th e Seward Coal Loading Facility (SCLF) is located in Seward, Alaska, at the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad. Its primary purpose is to unload coal from Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. from railcars, convey the coal to storage, reclaim coal from storage, and load coal into bulk ships.