Resolution to Investigate Possible Downstream Impacts to Water and Fish
By Gavin C. Dirom
February 26, 2017
As an association representing responsible mineral explorers and developers, we read with interest a February 6 story published in SitNews from Ketchikan, Alaska, regarding House Joint Resolution 9 as introduced by Representative Dan Ortiz about mine development in British Columbia. Canadians respect the rights of citizens and legislative processes in other jurisdictions, including the recent American resolution calling “to investigate long-term, region-wide downstream effects of proposed and existing industrial development”. We do, however, find the resolution puzzling given that as long-term good neighbours, the State of Alaska and Province of British Columbia, have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding that was further entrenched by a Statement of Cooperation agreement, to do essentially what Rep. Ortiz’s resolution appears to be asking for. The agreement is already being implemented by Alaska and British Columbia to ensure that water quality and aquatic life will be monitored and studied in a comprehensive, bilateral approach between the two neighbouring jurisdictions on an ongoing basis. This is good.
While the headline of Rep. Ortiz’s article identifies the issue as “Transboundary Mining”, it is important to clarify that the mineral development projects in Canada are not actually located on the political boundary between Alaska and British Columbia. Some Canadian rivers do flow into Alaska, and these rivers continue to support important salmon runs, indigenous cultures and local communities in both jurisdictions. As good neighbours and close allies, Canadians also care about our shared waters. This is why “Transboundary Waters” is a much more appropriate and reasonable description of reality than the erroneous and obviously misleading moniker, “Transboundary Mining”. We fully recognize that ongoing discharge from the former Tulsequah Chief mine is entering the Tulsequah River and that this is a concern to some Alaskans. We understand and respect those concerns, but we also know that the discharge is being carefully studied and considered by credible American and Canadian scientists. And while the discharge is visually noticeable for a short distance prior to entering the river, scientific study to date (including a recent 2016 Alaska Department of Fish and Game research paper) has not determined any definitive significant adverse effect on the downstream aquatic environment. Nevertheless, a forthcoming management plan is being prepared to alleviate concerns.
In fact, this most recent study of the Tulsequah River was undertaken by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Habitat in October 2016 (Technical Study No.16-06). And as quoted in the study, “The whole-body concentrations in juvenile Dolly Varden char we captured near the acid drainage in the Tulsequah River are similar to samples we took upstream and downstream of the mine drainage influence”. This does not mean that we advocate that nothing more needs to be done; rather, we strongly urge that future management decisions be based on scientific findings and professional expertise, rather than fear and ignorance. Beyond our current scientific understanding of the Tulsequah River, we are unclear where Rep. Ortiz has found significant adverse effects on any other river, including the three – the Taku, Stikine and Unuk – that he has specifically mentioned in his resolution.
Rep. Ortiz has stated in his resolution that: “With the proposal of multiple new mines in British Columbia, large scale mining is on the horizon and comes with possible negative impacts.” Rep. Ortiz is characterizing numerous mineral exploration projects in northwest British Columbia as imminently becoming large scale mines. That is simply not the case. There is only one new mine operating in the northwest part of the Province, and one other under construction. Both mines proceeded to construction and operations after many years of review, and extensive and detailed permitting processes that included referral to Alaska State and United States regulators and officials for their input and comment. In the rare event that mineral explorers discover a worthwhile mineral deposit, the project proponent undergoes a thorough review process (usually both federal and provincial environmental assessment processes and permitting in Canada) and must always adhere to rigorous environmental standards based on sound science. Other mine projects are being considered, but have yet to complete all regulatory requirements, which again, would include participation by Alaskan regulatory departments and American scientists.
As advocates for safe and environmentally sound mineral exploration and development, AME will continue working with the respective governments of British Columbia and Alaska as their Statement of Cooperation is implemented. And we expect that as a result of such a positive approach, we will help create an atmosphere of trust and sound decision making based on mutual understanding of the credible science undertaken by Canadian and American scientists working together, as good neighbours do.
Gavin C. Dirom
Received February 24, 2017 - Published February 26, 2017
About: "Gavin C. Dirom is president and chief executive officer of the Association for Mineral Exploration." AME website: www.amebc.ca
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