Among the reasons for postponing: some said the public process was too fast. Borough staff acknowledged that the request for the renewed lease came from Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. more than a year ago. The present 20-year-old lease still has until June 1, 2015 before it expires.
"We don't need to rush into this. The magnitude of this issue is too huge to be quick about it," said Deputy Mayor Lynne Woods, who had wanted to wait until July and voted no on the June date.
The Borough Planning Commission asked the Assembly to wait for 60 days for more research. The Borough's Real Property Asset Management Board also asked the Assembly to postpone its decision.
The lease would provide a direct connection from the Glenn Highway across Usibelli property to the lease area within the Wishbone Hill Coal Mine. The Borough ordinance states that this route has less impacts on local residences than accessing via the existing Buffalo Mine Road.
Vice President Steve Denton with Usibelli Coal Mine said the company wants to do exploration work to update its decades old core samples. Based on the new information the company would make a decision in 2011 on whether to develop. Earliest production, he said, would be 2012. He said the company projects extracting 500,000 to 600,000 tons of coal a year, which could mean 25 double, sidedumper trucks on the road a day. Covered loads would be a requirement, according to Project Manager Rob Brown with Usibelli.
Many Sutton area residents filled the Assembly chambers, expressing concerns about coal dust, truck traffic, noise, blasting, job loss, property devaluation and more. A few supported the ordinance, saying the mine is a great opportunity for the tax base and for jobs.
Assembly Member Vern Halter said he wishes the company well but the issue is more complicated than permitting a pioneer road.
"To me this is a complicated issue. It's got so many aspects to it. They have five years left in the lease. They're not stymied from going forward with any project at all in my mind. The complications to me are if they do come back with good data, and i hope they do, what happens then to the community, what happens then to noise and every little aspect of it like how the movement of coal is going to happen through Wasilla or if not Wasilla if going to be on trains and things. It's very complicated."