State fisheries and mining officials are joining Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott in Juneau today and tomorrow to meet with commercial fish harvesters, tribal leaders, conservationists, miners and others to discussion transboundary river issues.
The lieutenant governor’s office says they want to hear what all these entities have to say about the overall water quality, habitat integrity and resources sustainability of the salmon rich waters that flow from British Columbia into Southeast Alaska.
The state is preparing for discussions in Alaska later this month with British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett, who is coming to hear Southeast Alaska residents’ concerns about proposed Canadian mines near these transboundary rivers.
The concerns, in the wake of the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster in central British Columbia, are rooted in apprehension that such mines stand to adversely affect salmon habitat in Southeast Alaska. A tailings pond breach at that mine, owned by Imperial Metals, sent a year’s worth of mining waste from the copper and gold mine flowing into nearby creeks and rivers, felling trees and leaving a trail of mud and debris. In July the provincial government issued a conditional permit allowing the mine to reopen with restrictions.
On July 31, the state of Alaska released a white paper on the transboundary mines as part of its information package for the dialogue set for Aug. 6. The paper lays out an approach for engaging with British Columbia regarding downstream effects in Southeast Alaska from transboundary mines. These include seven major mine projects, of which only one, the Red Chris Mine, is currently operating.
The paper says more needs to be done to ensure that Alaskan waters and fish are protected as these mine projects are considered, including establishment of a joint water quality monitoring program for transboundary rivers.
Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders, a watershed based conservation group, is skeptical of how effective this approach will be. In a response to the white paper issued on Aug. 4, Zimmer said the paper failed to the main issue, enforceable protections to ensure the long-term, cumulative effects of existing and future large scale mining and associated development in northwest British Columbia will not harm Alaska’s fisheries and watersheds.