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By Dan Rudy 

WCA holding biannual meeting to talk mines and development

 


With a new Tribal Council and new items on the agenda for the year, Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA) is inviting its members to bring their appetites and ideas Saturday to the biannual Meeting of the Association, from noon to 3 p.m.

“We want to make it a fun event, for everyone to come down and visit,” explained Aaron Angerman, WCA’s new tribal administrator. The format will be kept informal, with a potluck dinner and different booths set up to inform and take feedback from members on different issues.

The event will also provide an opportunity to meet new members of the council, sworn in last month. Among these are the president and vice president, Sam Campus and Richard Oliver, who were sworn in after the election on March 3.

With most other members of the council elected within the past few years, Angerman explained the biannual meeting would be an ideal place for tribal members to ask questions, bring concerns and offer ideas.

“It’s a good chance to get us all in one room, in one place,” he said.

There are also new developments since the last meeting. WCA established a new fishery department late last fall, to be headed up by Brian Ashton. Its goal will be to find new ways to restore traditional waters and help local subsistence.

“We’re sort of making Wrangell a hub and a model for how tribes can do this,” Angerman explained. Eventually the goal is to restore the Mill Creek Sockeye run and conduct exploratory work at Bradfield and Aaron’s Creek.

“I think that’s the bigger picture a few years down the road,” he said. Presently, the department is seeking input from subsistence fishers and elders and preparing for the work ahead.

WCA Transportation is about to restart its road maintenance projects on Pats Lake and Nemo Loop roads, areas important for subsistence, recreation and access to culturally significant areas. Its Indian Environmental General Assistance Program office has also recently sent off its first batch of discarded nets for recycling, as well as shellfish samples for contaminant testing.

There are other positive developments on the WCA agenda. Its new carving facility was completed in the fall, and Angerman said tours of the building will be offered to meeting-goers. Local artists and crafters are being invited to set up tables and talk a bit as well.

“The building is for the Tribe,” Angerman said. The facility is the second of a three-phase cultural revitalization project, started in 2013 with the restoration of the clan house on Chief Shakes Island and ending with the restoration or replacement of local totem poles.

Work on a scaled-down traditional house is already being conducted inside the facility, with pieces being adzed for transport and construction in Juneau for display by the Alaska State Museum. Several classes have also been hosted in the carving facility, the first of what WCA intends will be many.

The building’s work rooms will also be used to host local artists, with the option to sell works and wares in a shop at the building’s front. Angerman explained they’ll have to gauge interest in the idea and determine scheduling before an opening day can be set, and he expects a more concrete timeline should follow this weekend’s meeting.

“We want to get as much of this tourist season as possible,” he said. He is hopeful the store will open within a month. WCA is also pursuing other grant alternatives to fund and develop cultural education and skills programs in the facility over the next three to five years.

The biannual meeting will also be an opportunity to discuss community concerns. High on the list are developments in Canadian mining along shared, transboundary waters. Locally, the Stikine River is the major source of salmon for subsistence users.

In February operations began upstream of the river at the Red Chris, one of several large open-pit mines proposed in the upper Stikine watershed. WCA is one among a variety of public and private groups expressing concern about the mine’s possible effects on the river’s water quality and its fisheries.

“That’s the biggest thing on my plate right now,” said Angerman. “Everyone’s getting involved, and all the tribes are getting together to speak out against these mines.”

He meets next month with members of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, a coalition representing many of Southeast Alaska’s tribes founded to address the issue.

The group is concerned about the long-term effects on water quality from acidic runoff produced by the mine’s waste rock, as well as the possibility of a tailings dam failure similar to the one at the Mount Polley mine last August.

“We don’t want to become Mount Polley,” Angerman commented. Were a similar breach to occur at Red Chris, the impact would be ruinous to communities reliant on the Stikine and its tributary waters. “It could completely ruin our fish stock for years and years.”

The Red Chris is a copper and gold mine owned by Imperial Metals, which also owns the Mount Polley mine. The mine is comprised of five 30-year leases covering about 20 square miles and 83 mineral claims encompassing 94 square miles. It is sited within 11 miles of the Iskut River, the largest tributary feeding into the Stikine.

Already delivering shipments as of April 11, Red Chris nears full permitting as it reaches an agreement with the Tahltan Central Council. It is expected to reach full production this summer.

 

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