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By Dan Rudy 

Transboundary mining issue groups seeking support

 


Transboundary water issues and mining projects being developed across the Canadian border seem to gain prominence each week as a topic in Wrangell, with a sizable presentation on the issue delivered to the public Tuesday evening.

United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group and Salmon Beyond Borders have gotten together with other interest groups to present their shared concern about the size and reputedly lax oversight of British Columbia projects currently being planned, with five mines in particular posing a threat to the salmon-abundant waters of the Unuk, Taku and Stikine rivers.

Their presentation had activists and experts alike flesh out the various reasons mines like Kerr-Sulferets-Mitchell, Galore Creek, Schaft Creek, Red Chris and Tulsequah Chief are cause for concern to those living downstream of them.

Fisheries biologist Sarah O'Neal and geophysicist Dave Chambers explained some of the science behind how these open-pit, porphyritic-deposit mines affect their surrounding environment and how that might pose debilitating problems for the wildlife.

Carrie Jones of the mining work group described the role Alaska Natives have played following the Transboundary Mining Summit in Craig in March, forming a broad coalition of Southeast groups and reaching out to First Nation counterparts in Canada.

It's not necessarily an easy task. Across the border, Trout Unlimited's Jill Weitz said there's a diversity of opinion among Tahltan groups regarding the mining developments. For many Canadians in the province, these projects promise to bring new jobs and opportunities to their communities as well.

Weitz wanted to make clear that the campaign she is a part of is not opposed to mining as a rule, but that this is an issue of shared resources. What the groups want are better guarantees that the projects being pursued in Canada are being developed in a responsible, sustainable manner.

“The next step in this campaign is to bring more people in,” she said, reaching across the border to Canadian counterparts. “Because this is going to take a lot of push.”

Weitz said Wrangell was the third of five planned stops for the presentation tour, heading to Petersburg yesterday and Ketchikan today.

We've had really good responses,” she said, as well as good turnouts. At least fifty people showed up to the Nolan Center Tuesday evening to hear the presentation.

The ongoing issue has recently cropped up elsewhere in Wrangell. The Borough last month issued a letter to Alaska's senators and representative in Congress, urging them to approach the State Department with its concerns.

Mining worries were also brought forward to the Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council meeting held in Wrangell last week.

Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders presented the council with an update on B.C. Developments Wednesday morning.

He said the provincial government has been progressively weakening its environmental regulations and oversight mechanisms over the past decade, pointing to the tailings breach at Mount Polley Mine in August as illustrating that point. Thirty-one million cubic yards of water and contaminated mine tailings were released into the Fraser River water system, impacting the local trout and salmon spawning areas.

“It could have been prevented, but certainly wasn't.”

What Zimmer's group and others have been recommending is using Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to initiate an International Joint Commission (IJC) to have both countries review the issue.

Zimmer said a positive precedent has been set in Montana's Flathead River region, where an IJC in 1988 produced a report leading to a reasonable curtailing the development of an open-pit coal mine upstream in Canada. A commission still continues that oversight process to this day.

“We look at this as a pretty strong success.”

Zimmer reasoned the IJC is likely the best vehicle for reaching a lasting compromise, but it would by necessity have to involve both countries' cooperation.

“Canada is so far balking at that,” he said, reticent to go that route again.

Weitz indicated that forming an IJC for Southeast Alaska's shared waters was a goal of the coalition.

“In that case we are making a strong effort now to engage Southeast Alaskans,” she said, educating communities on the issues at hand in order to build support. So far, she has been impressed by the variety of people taking an interest, not just environmental or subsistence groups, but also those representing industry, trades and tourism.

“It's been very wonderful to see the variety of interests coming together,” Weitz said.

 

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