Wednesday, May 14, 2014

British Columbia Mine Plans Pose Concerns For Southwest Alaska Fisheries

An environmental watchdog group says that a mining boom underway in northwest British Columbia could threaten fishing and tourism jobs and the unique way of life in Southweast Alaska.

Presenters at the Western Mining Action Network’s biennial conference in Anchorage May 9-11 included Chris Zimmer, campaign director for Alaska Rivers Without Borders, who described the mining plans as a "triple whammy" for the fish, water and people of the transboundary region. The problem, said Zimmer, is the mining boom comes with a weakened Canadian permitting process and environmental safeguards, and a lack of engagement on those concerns by both the state of Alaska and the federal government.

While more than a dozen industrial mines are currently engaged in permitting or advanced exploration in areas of British Columbia bordering on southeast Alaska, those of major concern are the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, or KSM gold and copper mine project, and the Tulsequah Chief mine project.

The KSM mine lies 20 miles from the Alaska border, near the headwaters of the Unuk River, and just upstream from Misty Fjords National Monument. Seabridge Gold in Toronto has proposed to construct three open pits and an underground mine, a project that Zimmer said would require dams the size of Hoover Dam to contain some 2.5 billion tons of tailings in perpetuity. There is potential, Zimmer said, for significant acid mine drainage.

Toronto-based Chieftain Metals, meanwhile, hopes to reopen the Tulsequah Chief mine, an underground mine upstream of its confluence with the Taku River, which flows into Southeast Alaska. There is already ongoing acid mine drainage pollution and the mine is opposed by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, he said, and the high potential for other pollution of the Taku, Stikine/Islet, Unuk and Nass watersheds from these mines poses harm to commercial, sport and personal use fisheries.

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