Long-held perceptions of Canada as a country with strict environmental standards and B.C. as a province that values natural beauty are taking a near-fatal beating in Southeast Alaska, where many now regard Canadians as bad neighbours who are unilaterally making decisions that could threaten the region’s two major economic drivers — fishing and tourism.
Upstream, in northwest B.C., there is a new-style gold rush with an unprecedented number of applications for open-pit gold and copper mines, some made viable by construction of the Northwest Transmission Line and all requiring road access.
Canada is increasingly viewed as a “bad actor,” whose record — most recently illustrated by the Mount Polley mine tailings dam collapse — shows the province’s environmental regulations and oversight are not strong enough to protect downstream communities.
Alaskan politicians, tribes, fishing organizations and environmental groups have come together in a rare show of unity to condemn B.C.’s push to approve mines close to major transboundary salmon rivers, such as the Stikine, Taku and Unuk, which run from B.C. into Alaska. Tensions are running so high the groups are asking the International Joint Commission, designed to resolve Canada/U.S. water problems, to step in.
Mines Minister Bill Bennett said Wednesday he’s willing to provide more access to the province’s environmental assessment system to address Alaskans concerns over mines that could effect transboundary waters.
Bennett finishes up a five-day trip to Alaska on Thursday, where he has met with state officials and numerous groups that have concerns about the potential effects of effluent released from mines in British Columbia into waters that flow into Alaska.
Imperial Metal’s Red Chris gold-copper mine is already in production in the northwest corner of the province and there are other planned mines in the region. Those included Seabridge’s $5.4-billion KSM gold-copper-silver mine and Pretium’s $811-million Brucejack gold-copper mine.
British Columbia’s top mine official says the province needs to address pollution pouring out of an abandoned tunnel east of Juneau.
Mines Minister Bill Bennett got an up-close look at what’s left of B.C.’s Tulsequah Chief Mine on Monday. It’s leaking acidic water into a river on the Canadian side of the border that flows into the salmon-rich Taku River. That waterway empties into the ocean near the capital city.
Bennett says scientists say the discharge is not harmful to fish. But he’s not proud of what he saw.
“I think B.C. is going to have to find a way to rectify it sooner than later and I think it is a most legitimate criticism of us by those folks in Alaska who don’t like it,” he says.
B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett is spending this week in Alaska, his second trip this year to work out a formal agreement on mine regulation between the state and the province.
Bennett has meetings lined up with Alaska conservation groups, state legislators, commercial fishing representatives and Alaska Governor Bill Walker. With major mine projects proposed on both sides of the border and continued public concern in the wake of last year's Mount Polley tailings dam collapse near Quesnel, Bennett is hoping to have an agreement ready for Walker and Premier Christy Clark to sign later this year.
Several B.C. mine projects have opened or received permits to proceed this year in northwest B.C., where salmon-bearing river systems extend across the Alaska panhandle to the Pacific Ocean.
Concern for the future of clean water in Southeast Alaska brought together two seemingly unlikely groups - chefs and activists. Naturally, food was involved.
Salmon Beyond Borders, an organization that defends transboundary salmon rivers from mining effects, joined forces with the Rookery Café last week to welcome celebrity chefs from across the nation, the Juneau Empire reported on Friday. The goal for this two-night experience was to put local salmon in acclaimed hands, showcasing bounty from Alaska waters, while sharing stories of how such bounty can be lost forever when mining disasters strike.
A protest in Wrangell on Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of a mining disaster in Canada and sought to bring attention to mines being developed across the border from Southeast Alaska.
About 100 people marched through Wrangell behind a banner that read “Keep the Stikine Clean.”
They marked the one-year anniversary of a British Columbia mine disaster with a rally and water blessing to raise awareness for other B.C. mines that could pose a threat to Southeast Alaska’s rivers and salmon.
We all know that history tends to get repeated, but who knew it would happen this soon?
Tahltan Central Council President Chad Day said last week that the presence of a copper and gold mining company in Tahltan traditional territory 50 kilometres east of Telegraph Creek could mean a Sacred Headwaters-like struggle all over again.
This comes two months after the provincial government bought back coal licences from coal mining company Fortune Minerals to ease a decade-long conflict in the much contested Klappan, or Sacred Headwaters area.
Last week, Day and four Tahltan elders descended by helicopter into another area, this time Sheslay River where many Tahltan historically lived and where many burial sites still exist, to tell mining company Doubleview that they should stop doing exploratory drilling in a wide swath of land.
“It may not have received the publicity of the Headwaters and the Klappan, but now that we’re coming together and have made a decision to protect that area, it could easily turn into another situation like that,” said Day after returning from the Doubleview camp.
Lillian Petershoare’s family fishes the Taku River and has done so for decades. A new generation is now learning the tradition.
John Morris “grew up on the Taku until I was 15 years old; I knew no other place.”
Barbara Cadiente-Nelson read a passage by Elizabeth Nyman: “This river, this watershed … know who you are and, if you permit it, it will tell you.”
Tlingit men and women whose lineage can be traced to the Taku River area spoke on their connection to the water and the land during a daylong boat trip down the Taku River on Sunday. The cruise was organized by the Douglas Indian Association.
The trip was meant to “put us on the same boat” — drawing a link between Tlingit connection to the land and the need for mainstream awareness and protection of its resources, said the DIA’s Morris, addressing the diverse group of passengers on the catamaran.
The day’s discussions aimed to show the importance of the river as a resource to the Taku River Tlingit, the T’aaku Kwáan, and impress that importance on the city, state and federal officials who came to listen.
It was also a space to talk about transboundary mines — metal mines located or planned across the political border in British Columbia that have the capacity to impact salmon-producing watersheds in Southeast Alaska.
The first of several mines being developed across the border from Southeast Alaska has received its final environmental permit. Some Alaskans are worried the Red Chris and other British Columbia mines will impact salmon in Southeast.
The Red Chris copper and gold mine got final approval last week to discharge wastewater in the Stikine River watershed.
The final permit was delayed because of extra scrutiny by a First Nations group and the B.C. government. It was the last environmental hurdle for the mine to jump before being guaranteed full use of its tailings storage facility.
A new report from two environmental groups claims a proposed gold and copper mine northeast of Ketchikan is too risky to build.
It says British Columbia’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell project threatens the safety of Alaska and B.C. salmon.
“The most significant risk associated with what KSM is proposing is the unprecedented volume of water that the mine is planning to manage and treat,” says Bonnie Gestring, of the Montana office of Earthworks, a conservation organization focused on mines.
She says it will handle more than 20 billion gallons a year, nearly eight times the volume of the next-largest open pit mine in North America.