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.
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.
Earlier this month, Heather Hardcastle, a commercial fisherwoman from Juneau, Alaska met in Williams Lake, B.C. with members of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation. They shared a meal of wild Alaskan salmon that Hardcastle brought as a symbolic gesture: This fish was a reminder of all there was to lose.
After lunch, Hardcastle and her team of Alaska visitors boarded a helicopter and flew 25 minutes away to the site of the Mount Polley accident, the scene of a massive breach last August of its mine waste dam near the town of Likely, B.C.
The breach released millions of cubic metres of contaminated water into Quesnel Lake, which feeds into the Fraser River.
Nine months later, Jacinda Mack, a Xatsull woman from the Soda Creek reserve and one of many residents living near the path of the spill, invited the Alaskans to Williams Lake to see firsthand the main effect of that accident.
On the Fraser River, contamination from the mine breach threatened the run of Sockeye salmon that spawns in Quesnel Lake.
"We saw where [Mack] was raised, and where they used to fish on the Fraser where people fished for thousands of years, and they're not fishing there anymore. It's heartbreaking," Hardcastle said. "It's a stunning and gorgeous area but it was just so sad. It feels selfish to be thinking about us and our water, but it lit a fire under me. We have to do something."
(To read complete source article, click "The Tyee")
B.C.’s push to develop mines in its shared watersheds with Alaska is under increasing scrutiny from the American side of the border.
Concerns over multiple proposed metal mines near the southeast Alaska border has drawn Alaska’s Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott — and a coterie of commercial fishing, conservation and First Nation groups — to British Columbia this week.
In a visit that coincides with mining week in B.C., Mallott will meet with B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, Environment Minister Mary Polak, industry representatives and First Nation leaders.
The Alaskan fishing, conservation and aboriginal representatives are in B.C. to build alliances in their push for more scrutiny of the potential effects on Alaska waters that support a multi-billion-dollar fishery.
They believe that B.C.’s review process is not adequate and want Alaska to have a seat at a table, potentially through an international joint commission, to examine potential cumulative effects on water and salmon. The groups are also concerned about compensation if there is a disaster.
Dozens of Canadian and American environmental groups, First Nations and businesses, as well as scientists and individuals, have called on the B.C. government to end the use of storing mine waste under water and behind earth-and-rock dams.
But Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said that is not going to happen in British Columbia. “I don’t think that’s in the cards for B.C. — or any other province in Canada — to adopt a policy where all you can use to manage tailings is dry-stack tailings,” Bennett said in an interview.
The demand from the U.S. and Canadian groups — sent in a letter Tuesday to Bennett and B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak — came as a result of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings dam failure last summer.
It’s not often the Juneau Empire offers a rebuttal to a submitted column. Waging a back-and-forth war of words isn’t fair for the other party. We buy ink by the barrel and have dedicated staff to get the word out online as well.
However, we must respond to the Feb. 24 My Turn penned by Bill Bennett, the Minister of Mines for British Columbia.
Let us start off by addressing the first portion of Mr. Bennett’s piece when he states it was “unfortunate your editorial has seized upon the Mount Polley mine tailings storage facility failure to undermine the long tradition of respectful relations and co-operation between British Columbia and Alaska on mining development and environmental protection.”
Perhaps Mr. Bennett has forgotten about the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Southeast Alaska has not forgotten.
The Tulsequah Chief Mine, located south of Juneau on the Taku River just across the Canadian border, has leached acid runoff into the Taku River since its closure in the 1950s. The Taku boasts notable salmon runs, the same runs which in turn give jobs to many commercial fishermen. There were efforts to revitalize the mine, but those failed for financial reasons and to this day acid continues to taint the Taku.
Alaskans — Native tribes, commercial fishermen, local governments and ordinary residents — feel it is not at all respectful to leave a mine in ruin, leaching acid runoff. Nor do we feel this is in any way an example of “environmental protection.” Years ago, Alaska’s leaders tried to have a dialogue on cleaning up the mine. Former Gov. Sarah Palin and others were largely ignored in their efforts, as this newspaper and others reported at the time.
A provincial government report that found the tailings pond dam at Mount Polley collapsed because it was built on a weak foundation has heightened concerns in Alaska about British Columbia’s mine safety standards.
Commercial fishermen, native organizations and the mayors of two Alaska communities say they are worried the Red Chris mine, now being built in northern British Columbia by the same company that owns Mount Polley, poses a similar risk.
(To read complete source article, click "The Globe and Mail")
With untouched wild rivers and strict fishing regulations, Alaska has some of the healthiest salmon fisheries in the world. But as Living on Earth’s Emmett FitzGerald reports, new metal mines upstream in British Columbia mean the fishing community in Southeast Alaska is deeply worried about what could flow downstream.
(To read and listen to full report, click "Living on Earth")
First Nations leaders are dismayed that the British Columbia government has extended environmental assessment certificates for two controversial mine projects.
The province granted a five-year extension to a certificate that had been given to an earlier version of the New Prosperity mine near Williams Lake.
The Tulsequah Chief mine, in the province's northwest, has been determined to have "substantially started," meaning the certificate will remain in effect for the life of the project....
... the Taku River Tlingit First Nation of Atlin has been opposing the Tulsequah Chief Mine for more than a decade. Chieftain Metals, which owns that project, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled last July that the government breached its duty to consult the band when it first declared the mine "substantially started" in 2012. The ruling forced the province to make the decision again, but after more consultation.
Polak said she is confident the province adequately consulted with the Taku River Tlingit before she made her announcement this week. But John Ward, a spokesman for the First Nation, said the band disagrees with the decision and will review it carefully.
"I don't know what it's going to take to change things," he said. "We're not opposing mines, we just want better processes, more responsible processes. We want assurance the land isn't going to be ruined for future generations."
(To read complete source article, click "The Province")
Chieftain Metals Corp., the company attempting to reopen the Tulsequah Chief Mine, has taken a financial hit.
Colorado-based Royal Gold provided Chieftain with a $10 million advance in December 2011 but has backed out of the agreement and requested repayment in full. Chieftain announced Dec. 23 that it will use an $18.5 million bridge loan from West Face Capital, announced in July, to repay it.
The National Congress of American Indians, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood have added their voices to those calling for protections of salmon and eulachon rivers that flow from British Columbia and into Alaska.
Southeast Alaskan fishermen, tourism operators and environmental groups, as well as some municipalities and Native organizations like the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, have been vocal in their concern about British Columbia’s mining development plans, forming the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group, traveling to D.C. to meet with Alaska’s Congressional delegation and environmental regulators, and holding many meetings sharing their concerns.
“The health of our rivers and streams is paramount for Alaska Natives and American Indians, especially those who rely on our traditional and customary ways of life. Since rivers do not recognize the arbitrary boundaries drawn on maps, it is the responsibility of the United States and Canada to work together on maintaining a healthy ecosystem and clean water for the protection of all of our subsistence resources,” said Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of NCAI, in a press release.
Chieftain Metals Corp. has released new details on its plan to barge supplies and minerals to and from the Tulsequah Chief Mine, up the Taku River south of Juneau.
Chieftain is trying to re-open the long closed zinc, copper and gold mine in British Columbia. The company filed an updated feasibility study with Canadian financial regulators earlier this month. It says the Taku is likely to be impassable about 23 percent of the time during the proposed barging season from May to September. Another 23 percent of the time, barges will need a tug to help navigate the river.
Chris Zimmer with the environmental organization Rivers Without Borders says the report is light on other details about the company’s barging plan.
“When you look at this, you just think, ‘Boy, how are they going to make this work?'” Zimmer says. “Because they’ve got to get concentrate out on schedule to get it on a barge and to get it down to a freighter in Seattle. And given the conditions in the river, I just can’t see how they’re going to be able to make this work.”
British Columbia's ambition of opening new mines in the province's north has raised fears in neighbouring Alaska where environmental and aboriginal groups say the industry's unchecked development threatens their salmon and tourism industries.
Tribal leaders and salmon-protection advocates gathered at a Bureau of Indian Affairs conference in Anchorage Tuesday, and high on the agenda was the impact of B.C. mineral developments on the multibillion-dollar Alaskan industries.
Conference delegates called on the U.S. State Department to use the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty to activate the International Joint Commission, hold boundary dispute hearings and discuss the important salmon waterways, the communities they support and the risks they face from potential mine contamination.
The Keystone XL controversy may currently be consuming most of the U.S. government’s attention, but it’s not the only environmental crisis-in-the-making coming our way via Canada. A pro-development push north of the border is paving the way for large-scale mining projects located at key watersheds. Downstream in Alaska, commercial fishermen, conservation groups and others who fear for the mines’ potential to damage their homes and livelihoods can do nothing but watch.
Emblematic among these perceived threats is the KSM (Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell) mine, a British Columbia project in the transboundary Unuk River watershed. Alaska, the United State’s last major remaining source of wild-caught salmon, boasts five species of salmon; all can be found in the Unuk, which boasts one of the region’s largest runs of king, or chinook, salmon. On the U.S. side of the border, the Unuk flows into the Misty Fjords National Monument, a federal wilderness area.
KSM is somewhat uniquely imposing: if built, it would become one the world’s largest open-pit mines, capable of producing billions of pounds of copper and millions of pounds of silver, gold and molybdenum. It will be located less than 20 miles upstream from the U.S. border. In both size and controversy, KSM rivals Pebble Mine, the proposed open-pit copper mine currently the topic of fierce debate in Alaska. The difference here is that the ultimate decision whether or not to build the mine is largely out of Alaskans’ hands....
... KSM is terrifying based on its size alone, but add it to the number of other large, open-pit mines being fast-tracked toward approval, and the risks multiply. In 2011, Premiere Christy Clark, who trumpets mining as the province’s “comeback industry,” pledged to build eight new mines and expand nine others: right now, five projects in total are pending along the Taku , Stikine and Unuk watersheds, all of which are incredibly important, and delicate, salmon habitats. The same company behind the Mt. Polley disaster, Imperial Metals, has anther major project pending at a main tributary to the Stikine River watershed, “one of the largest salmon producers in the Tongass National Forest.” After Imperial Metals said it had no plans to slow down production in light of what happened at Mt. Polley, indigenous Canadians blockaded the mine in protest.
Chieftain Metals, owner of the Tulsequah Chief mine, has returned to plans to use barges on the Taku River, spurring concern from some in Juneau.
In its most recent plan to open the mine, the company had said it would build an 80-mile road from Atlin to the mine, instead of using barges for transport.
“This flip-flop from road to barge is very surprising. None of the barging efforts by Chieftain in 2011 and (by) previous mine owner Redfern, in 2007 and 2008, worked as planned and Chieftain’s own access report concluded in 2011 that none of the barging options were practical,” Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director of Rivers Without Borders, said in a press release. “The threat of salmon habitat damage from groundings and accidents, as well as spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other chemicals, will certainly raise concerns in Juneau.”
Bill Bennett, British Columbia’s minister of energy and mines, traveled to Anchorage last week to tell Alaskans what they already know: Fish are important.
Bennett spoke at the Alaska Miners Association conference in part to reassure Alaskans that British Columbia takes mine safety seriously.
Bennett’s message isn’t important — it’s what we expect to hear from someone who works in a government interested in industrial development. What’s more important to Alaskans is the messenger.
When was the last time a British Columbian minister traveled to Alaska in such a prominent way?
The enormous Mount Polley Mine tailings dam failed Aug. 4, spilling millions of gallons of potentially toxic material into the Fraser River watershed. Even before that dam’s collapse, Alaskans had been alarmed about the progress of a series of mammoth mines just over the border from Alaska. The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine, for example, is planned for the headwaters of the Unuk River, which flows across the border and empties into the Pacific Ocean between Wrangell and Ketchikan. Each summer, the Unuk and other transboundary rivers host countless salmon and their eggs. The Mount Polley Mine disaster was a perfect example of Alaskans’ fears come to life.
Chieftain Metals’, on October 20, announced an update to the December 2012 feasibility study for the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine. The most significant change is a plan to access the mine using barges on the Taku River, rather than via an access road to Atlin, British Columbia.
“This flip-flop from road to barge is very surprising. None of the barging efforts by Chieftain in 2011 and previous mine owner Redfern in 2007 and 2008 worked as planned and Chieftain’s own access report concluded in 2011 that none of the barging options were practical,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “The threat of salmon habitat damage from groundings and accidents, as well as spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other chemicals, will certainly raise concerns in Juneau.”
(To read complete release, click "Rivers Without Borders")
Facing difficulty in getting a road through rugged terrain to Canada's Tulsequah Chief mine, the company that wants to reopen the old gold, zinc and copper mine is now planning instead on bringing the ore out through Alaska by barge.
That's raising concerns in Alaska's capital city of Juneau, where the barges would pass through. The Canadian mine is just east of Juneau.
Chieftain Metals Corp. of Canada has provided few details so far about what that new barging plan would entail and what sort of regulatory hurdles there might be in either Alaska or British Columbia.
But the mine and its new proposed access plan are renewing fears for the Taku River, one of Southeast's top salmon-producing rivers, and a part of the foundation for local gillnet, sport fishing and tourism industries. The Tulsequah River flows into the Taku, which would be used for the barging plan.
Alaska Fish and Game officials say the Taku River drains one of the largest almost-entirely roadless watersheds on the West Coast, and provides spawning habitat for all five Pacific salmon species and habitat for an abundance of other wildlife.
Roaring at seven knots up the U.S. side of the Stikine River, a grizzly bear of a man named Mark Galla steers our jet boat through a gauntlet of protruding logs, attempting to point out the exact point at which Alaska becomes British Columbia. Against the vastness of the surrounding wilderness, the border is invisible, almost arbitrary. Until recently, most Alaskans couldn't see it either.
That all changed in August when YouTube video highlights of the Mount Polley mine disaster circulated through panhandle towns like Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell. Media from across the state drew comparisons between Mount Polley and the tailings dams that could one day accompany the half-dozen open pit mines proposed in the wild river watersheds that Alaska and B.C. share -- the Unuk, Taku and, more than anywhere else, the Stikine.
(To read complete source article, click "The Tyee")
Throughout history, arguments over land and water usages have run the gamut from tussles over fences with next-door neighbors to shootouts over interstate grazing rights in the old west. But when land and water rights pit one country against another, that’s when things really get tricky.
That is the situation in Southeast Alaska, where residents find themselves downstream from several massive open pit gold and copper mines being developed in bordering British Columbia. The mines are located in the headwaters of some of Southeast’s largest and most productive wild salmon rivers: the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk.
Canada operates under different permitting and environmental rules than the U.S. and currently, no safeguards are in place to protect Alaska waters and fisheries from chemical and heavy-metal contaminants leaching from the B.C. mines. Recall the Aug. 4 tailings dam breach at the Mt. Polley mine, and it’s easy to understand why Southeast residents are seeing red.
The collapse of a tailings dam on Aug. 4, at a big British Columbia mine, not only contaminated key salmon habitat but breached the credibility of B.C.’s government.
The province’s lack of transparency, and lackadaisical attitude toward warning signs at the Mount Polley Mine, should be a wakeup call on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
Why is this of concern to Washington or Alaska? What does a huge release of water and metal-laden tailings into Quesnel Lake have to do with the United States?
Plenty! Just look closely at a map of Southeast Alaska.
Big mines are being planned or on the verge of opening in the Stikine-Iskut, Unuk and Taku River systems, vitally important Alaska salmon streams all of which have their headwaters in British Columbia.
Salmon runs and spawning streams shared by the U.S. and Canada could be threatened by big Canadian mining developments and the lax regulatory climate that led to British Columbia’s Mount Polley environmental disaster, two U.S. senators warned Monday.
“We have to show these people that salmon know no boundaries,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said while touring facilities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said he supports mines “but the right kind of mines.” Begich is worried at mine projects in the Canadian headwaters of the Stikine-Iskut, Unuk and Taku Rivers, all important salmon streams which flow into Southeast Alaska.
Begich called the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., last week and wrote a strongly worded letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Honourable Justice George Macintosh has ruled that the BC Government breached its duty to consult the Taku River Tlingit First Nation when making a critical determination regarding the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Justice Macintosh also criticized evidence relied upon by the BC Government in making a determination that the project was substantially started. The Environment Minister must make the decision again which puts Chieftain Metals mine approvals at risk.
One cannot separate Tlingit history from the land, and it’s never been easier to understand why, with a collaboration between the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and the University of British Columbia.
During Celebration on Thursday afternoon, Nicole Gordon, of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation of Atlin, and Christine Schreyer, assistant professor of anthropology at UBC-Okanagan, presented “Demonstration of Taku River Tlingit First Nation Place Names Map and Website.” The lecture provided background information about the creation of the interactive map and a tutorial on its use.
British Columbia sees aggressive development of its natural resources as a way to improve its economy; Southeast Alaska fishermen, tribes and environmental organizations see it as a threat to their fisheries and way of life.
Southeast Alaska commercial fishermen are in Washington DC this week seeking help from the federal government to protect their region’s fisheries and tourism industries from potential water pollution from large-scale Canadian mines.
A First Nation has launched a lawsuit in an attempt to stop a struggling but potentially lucrative mine in northwestern British Columbia, more than a decade after the band's first court challenge of the project.
The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has filed a notice in B.C. Supreme Court asking that the Tulsequah Chief mine project, owned by Chieftain Metals, be stopped.
(To read complete press release, click "The Canadian Press")
... The similarities between Juneau and western Canada are abundant. We both have similar renewable and nonrenewable resources that need managing, Native issues dealing with subsistence that often are at the forefront of conversations when it comes to wildlife management, and we both are home to small, isolated communities that share similar weather and the need for affordable energy. In short, we’re not as different as one might think.
Last summer, John Grace, one of the world's elite kayakers, traveled more than 3,000 miles from his North Carolina home into the wild northwest corner of British Columbia, to explore the Iskut River. It's the biggest tributary of the Stikine River, which flows all the way to the Alaska panhandle coast, and together they're the kind of big, untamed salmon-rich river system no longer found in the American West. On a sunny August day, deep in the backcountry, Grace and a few friends paddled toward the jaws of Iskut Canyon, hoping to reach a four-mile stretch of surging whitewater that no human had conquered before.
As they neared the canyon, the haunting silence of the rainforest closed in around them. Suddenly they found themselves in the midst of a vast construction camp. Workers were boring a tunnel into the mountain, part of a hydropower project to harness the great force of the river.
(To read the complete source article, click "High Country News")
ATLIN, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Nov. 28, 2012) - The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN), faced with significant concerns about the state of Chieftain Metals' proposal and negotiations, held a Joint Clan meeting on November 18, 2012 where the Joint Clan Forum rejected the proposed Tulsequah Chief Project.
The Joint Clan Mandate instructs TRTFN Leadership to "take all steps necessary to ensure that the Tulsequah Chief project, as currently proposed, is not developed on Taku River Tlingit Territory."
British Columbia's government is hitching its economic hopes for the province to a boom in resource development. Much of that is slated for the northwest. Resource journalist Christopher Pollon traveled to the region to learn how an anticipated boom of power lines, new mines and hydro projects will affect northern communities – for better and worse.
(To read complete source articles, click "The Tyee")