Usibelli Coal Mine celebrates 75 years in Healy

Usibelli Coal Mine is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The operation in Healy started by Emil Usibelli in 1943, run by his son and now by his grandson, is Alaska’s only operating coal mine.

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Joe Usibelli has run the company for the last three decades, and shared the story of the family coal mine in a recent presentation to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. Usibelli says his family came to the US over a century ago to seek a better life, just like today’s immigrants.

”My great-grandfather came over in 1907, my grandfather came over in 1909,” Usibelli said. “They came over form Italy, and there’s parallels in the world right now.”

Usibelli says his grandfather worked numerous jobs along the West Coast, eventually coming to Alaska and later starting a coal mine to supply the Army as the military built up in Alaska for World War II.

”The original customer was Ladd Army Airfield, which is now Ft. Wainwright,” Usibelli said.

The Usibelli mine continues to provide coal for interior military and public power generation. For a time the mine exported coal outside Alaska, until changing world markets, made it uneconomic.

”We’ve had trials and tribulations; we continue,” Usibelli said. “Every business does, every business has that. But you need to learn from it and you need to get through it.”

Usibelli attributes the family mine’s long term success to a few basic elements.

”Working hard, having tenacity, having a bit of luck,” Usibelli said.

While power generation has shifted to natural gas in many places outside, Usibelli remains optimistic about coal’s future in Alaska, noting renovation of a second Golden Valley Electric Association’s coal fired plant in Healy and the University of Alaska Fairbanks replacement of its old power plant with a state of the art coal burning facility

“The new university plant is getting ready to start up here in just the next few weeks. And those are our future,” Usibelli said.

The Usibelli Mine is holding a 75th anniversary open house and reception at the mine site in Healy, Saturday August 4th

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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