Coal: Wishbone Hill Project

The History of Wishbone Hill Mine

There is a long history of mining in the Wishbone Hill area. As early as 1894, trappers and prospectors heard about the rich coal veins in the Matanuska Valley. By the early 1900’s all of the major geologic features had been described by federal government geologists.  In 1904, a private railroad company began laying track from Seward toward the Tanana River, and planned to use Matanuska coal to fuel its engines. By 1916 the railroad reached the Matanuska Coal Field.

The Wishbone Hill coal district is one of the four coal districts of the Matanuska Coal Field. It is approximately 2 miles wide and 8 miles long and takes its name from the prominent conglomerate-capped hill that occupies its central part.  The Wishbone Hill district has the greatest coal development potential of the four coal districts because of its relatively simple structure, good coal quality, close location to existing infrastructure, and surface mineable reserves.

The first mining began in the southwestern portion of the district in 1916 at the Doherty mine, which supplied coal to the newly formed Alaska Railroad. As coal demand for the railroad grew, emphasis shifted to the better quality reserves in the east-central part of the field.

The Wishbone Hill mining area is one of  the most studied potential mines in the state of Alaska. Nearly 30 years of environmental baseline data has been collected from the Wishbone Hill area.  About 300 exploration holes have been drilled since the early 1980s.

The Wishbone Hill deposit is considered a relatively small deposit, with about 14 million tons of identified reserves, compared to Healy which has over 500 million tons identified.
Wishbone Hill coal is particularly valuable because it is the only bituminous coal deposit on the road system.

Historical Timeline:

1914 Woodrow Wilson signs Coal Leasing Act, and the Navy determines Matanuska Valley coal is suitable for Navy use.

1916 Alaska Railroad built to Matanuska Valley Coal Field. Doherty Mine begins production.

1917 Baxter Coal Mine begins operation, continues to 1925. Underground mine, produced 3000 tons/yr

1920 Evan Jones Mine starts up, and ultimately closes in 1968.

1922 Premier Mine starts operation. Produces coal intermittently until early 1980’s.

1939 Buffalo Mine starts operation. Underground mine operated until 1953. Reclaimed with funds from the Abandoned Mine Land Program in 1987.

1956 Wishbone Hill coal lease issued. A coal prospecting permit was issued on April 1, 1953, which was converted to a lease on May 23, 1956.

1983 Exploration drilling began at Wishbone Hill

1984 Matanuska Valley Moose Range created by the Alaska State Legislature.

1989 Original application for a permit under the Alaska Surface Coal Mine Control and Reclamation Act (ASCMCRA) submitted for Wishbone Hill Mine by Idemitsu Alaska, Inc.

1991 Idemitsu Alaska, Inc. receives Wishbone Hill ASCMCRA permit. The two year process to approve the permit included public notice and regular meetings between project staff and many groups and organizations, including the Sutton Community Council, the City of Palmer, the Palmer Chamber of Commerce, the Mat-Su Borough, the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce, and the Alaska Center for the Environment.

1995 Wishbone Hill Mine ASCMCRA permit transferred from Idemitsu Alaska, Inc. to Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI) (North Pacific Mining Corporation).

1996 Wishbone Hill ASCMCRA permit renewed.

1990 Land lease secured from Mat-Su Borough for private access route to mine area, aimed at minimizing impact on local traffic that relies on Buffalo Mine Road.

1997 Wishbone Hill ASCMCRA permit transferred from CIRI to Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.

2001 and 2006 Wishbone Hill ASCMCRA permit renewed.

2010 to 2016 On-going environmental studies, drilling, permitting and feasibility study.

Property Status    

State of Alaska Coal Leases
Cook Inlet Region Inc. Coal Lease 
State of Alaska Surface Leases
Matanuska-Susitna Borough Surface Lease
Private Surface Leases
Private Fee Lands

7,434 acres
706 acres
420 acres
60 acres
160 acres
8.5 acres

Proven Surface Reserves    

West Mine Area
East Mine Area

10.4 million tons (washed)
4.0 million tons (washed)

Coal Quality




Heating Value







Typical As-Mined






Typical Washed







Access via Glenn Highway, 10 miles northeast of Palmer, Alaska


Lorali Simon
V.P. External Affairs
125 W. Evergreen Ave #203
Palmer, AK 99645
office (907) 745-6028
fax (907) 745-6083