Astoria Fisheries Auction

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mine Analysis Suggests Environmental Risks

A new analysis of four British Columbia mines in the transboundary region whose waters flow into the salmon-rich habitat of Southeast Alaska says these projects have failed to implement recommendations that could prevent another disaster.

The analysis was commissioned on behalf of 14 non-profit entities concerned about the potential environmental impact of these mines on wild salmon habitat, and written by Dave Chambers, an expert on the impacts of mining, and director of the Center for Science in Public Participation.

The document on tailings dam safety in British Columbia, in the aftermath of the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster of 2014, is online at www.earthworksaction.org

The concern, notes Chambers, is that a similar failure at a similar mine in the transboundary region could physically destroy, and chemically impact, spawning and rearing habitat both in British Columbia and Alaska that is critical to commercial, recreational, sport and subsistence fishing. Billions of dollars in fisheries, cultural heritage, and a way of life in southeast Alaska literally depend on the fish that come from these watersheds, he said.

The report assesses tailings dam designs at four mines in British Columbia in light of recommendations of an expert panel formed in the wake of the Mount Polley disaster to examine whether regulatory agencies are applying best available technology to reduce the risk of catastrophic tailings dam failures, and where they aren’t, if changes could be made to do so.

All four mines plan to use the same technologies that failed at Mount Polley: wet tailings at closure, rather than the dry tailings at closure recommended by the panel, and centerline tailings dam design, instead of the safer downstream design, he said.


Chambers concludes that in the case of the Red Chris copper mine, whose large dam with undrained tailings does not meet recommendations of the expert panel, the design cannot be altered because the mine was allowed to start operation. Design alteration is still possible for the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, Schaft Creek and Galore Creek mines, but it is not clear that this will happen voluntarily, or that regulators will require such an analysis, he said.

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