Squeezing into a wobbly four-seater propeller plane is the only way to reach the tiny tribe of Tyonek, tucked deep in the roadless Alaskan wilderness. Gliding above the long mudflats and the serpentine curves of streams, I spot the fat white backs of beluga whales surfacing at the mouth of a river and an island covered by sunning sea lions.
As the plane gets closer, the mudflats give way to swamps, which give way to dense evergreens. A towering mountain range materializes from the clouds, and, nestled in an inlet, the gently meandering lines of the Chuitna River come into focus.
This is the place where a coal company backed by a wealthy Texas family — one whose fabled legacy of gambling on energy markets extends back to a game of cards with an oil rig at stake — wants to sink a 300-foot-deep coal mine over 30 square miles of wetlands and forest. The $700 million project, commonly called the Chuitna mine, currently masquerades under the guise of a tiny Alaskan coal company called PacRim. If the project goes forward, it would all but obliterate Tyonek tribe’s fishing and hunting grounds.
The coastal village of Tyonek lies on Cook Inlet, about 45 mi... Read more