Assembly approves resolution calling for protection of transboundary rivers

The borough assembly acknowledged the life-giving watershed that feeds the Stikine River, which crosses the U.S.-Canada border, in approving a resolution to support efforts to protect Southeast Alaska’s three transboundary waters from mining pollution.

The resolution references the ecosystem, Indigenous people, communities, residents and economies that depend on the health of the Stikine River.

The assembly on Tuesday approved a “Wrangellized” version of a resolution that was originally scheduled for consideration Sept. 28.

“The assembly further calls on federal officials to work with Canadian counterparts to immediately address the multitude of regulatory and oversight deficiencies of the mining industry identified by the B.C. provincial government; and to take meaningful steps to protect the transboundary waters from further catastrophic impacts,” the resolution states.

It further states that the assembly “supports an immediate, temporary pause in permitting, development and expansion of Canadian mines along shared Alaska-B.C. salmon rivers until a binding international agreement on watershed protections … is implemented.”

Representatives from the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission and Salmon Beyond Borders had requested assembly action, along with support from other Southeast communities.

The assembly has passed three similar transboundary rivers’ support resolutions in recent years.

The issue is British Columbia mining activities at the headwaters of the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers.

“More than two-dozen inadequately regulated Canadian hard rock mines in Northwest B.C., most of which are large-scale and open-pit, are occurring in known acid-generating ore bodies … producing massive tailings dams that have to store toxic waste forever, expansive waste rock storage facilities, the need for perpetual water treatment, roads, and other infrastructure, as well as threatening (both in the short term and on geological timescales) the productivity and ecological health of these watersheds,” the resolution states.

Mines in the Stikine River watershed include the Johnny Mountain Mine, the SNIP Mine (in exploration), the proposed Schaft Creek Mine, the operational Red Chris Mine, and the proposed Galore Creek Mega-Mine.

The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 was intended to prevent and resolve disputes over the use of shared waters between the U.S. and Canada, and the resolution calls on all parties to use the treaty to solve the concerns over mining in the watersheds.

The health of the Stikine River is vital to Wrangell, the resolution states. “The Wrangell economy is heavily tied to several commercial fisheries with virtually every local business benefitting from commercial fishing related economic activity.”

Four people signed in to speak at Tuesday’s assembly meeting: Breanna Walker, campaign coordinator for Salmon Beyond Borders; Frederick Olsen Jr./ K’yuuhlgáansii (“place of one’s own”), executive director of Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission; Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders director; and local artist Brenda Schwartz-Yeager.

“My lifestyle is tangled up with the Stikine River,” Schwartz-Yeager said, saying it’s a fragile ecosystem, and anyone else whose lifestyle reflected hers probably had a little bit of the Stikine River running through them.

“A lot of the folks who have spoken before me have spoken articulately on the tailings dam. They are massive. Unless you have seen it up close. … It is incredible and scary that they are just upstream from us. These same mining companies have a pretty deplorable track record for taking responsibility for the messes they’ve made. We have a lot to lose and little to gain. They have little to lose and a lot to gain.”


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