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Alaska and BC Discuss Transboundary Waters


August 27 2015
Thursday PM

(SitNews) - For the first time in more than twenty years, government officials with the State of Alaska and British Columbia spent this week meeting face-to-face with Alaska tribes, Southeast municipalities, fishermen, legislators, mining industry and environmental organization representatives to build relationships and discuss the long-term protection of transboundary waters, principally the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds.

Lt. Governor Byron Mallott invited BC Minister of Energy and Mines, William Bennett, to come to Southeast Alaska and meet the people whose lives depend on the transboundary rivers for their way of life... Bennett was flown up the Taku with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and saw the shuttered Canadian Tulsequah Chief Mine as well as went on the river, stopping at a fish wheel escapement camp and a commercial fish buying station, to understand the salmon journey up the river.

jpg Alaska and BC Discuss Transboundary Waters

Lt. Governor Byron Mallott and BC Minister of Energy and Mines William Bennett with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on on the Taku, stopping at a fish wheel escapement camp.
Photo courtesy Office of Lt. Gov.

“While I am gratified to see both BC and Alaska at the table, these discussions underscore the international aspect of this issue,” Mallott said during a news conference this afternoon. “We will move forward on several fronts, not only collaborating on a draft memorandum of understanding but also exploring federal engagement from Ottawa and our State Department. “

The BC delegation, including high-ranking mining and environmental regulators, held candid discussions with their Alaska counterparts from Governor Walker’s Transboundary Working Group headed by Mallott, including the Commissioners of the Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game, and Department of Resources, on how to create a framework for further discussions and improvements in specific areas including:

Collaboration on Monitoring: both sides recognize the importance of having a reliable and adequate process for the collection and distribution of baseline, regional and project-specific water quality and related data. There are opportunities to collaborate among different agencies, Tribes, First Nations, Industry and others to collect the data.

Alaska Participation in the Environmental Assessment and Permitting Processes: Both sides are looking for opportunities to build on the existing collaboration whereby members of Alaska’s Large Mine Review Team (technical experts from the state’s departments of Natural Resources, Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation) participate in the Environmental Assessment and Permitting Processes relating to province’s authorization of the development of transboundary mines. The issue of financial assurances during and after the life of the mine by governments and industry was also broached by stakeholders.

Both recognized the constraints that contracting budgets puts on them and the need to prioritize work, build on existing collaborations, leverage existing partnerships and resources, and avoid unnecessary duplication.

They are also looking for opportunities for interested Alaskans, including tribes and NGOs, to have easier access to information about potential mining projects in BC and to have meaningful opportunities to provide input before decisions are made. It is envisioned this will include the holding of public open houses in Alaska during the Environmental Assessment process on particular proposed projects.

In the past, much of the collaboration between the Alaska and BC relating to transboundary mines has been during the Environmental Assessment and Permitting processes. In addition to enhancing Alaska participation in these processes, the parties intend to look at useful means to share information and concerns relating to each stage of a mine’s life, specifically the permitting, operational, shutdown, closure and reclamation phases. A key goal is early involvement and transparency in all aspects with tribes, First Nations, stakeholders and the public.

Thursday, Mallott and Bennett were in Ketchikan to meet with additional stakeholders and tribes before attending the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Other delegation members will visit Greens Creek Mine as the guests of Hecla Mining Company before returning to Canada.

Of the meeting in Juneau Wednesday, Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association said, “The meeting was a productive first step and we’re grateful for the opportunity to meet with Minister Bennett and Alaska Lt. Governor Mallott. While cross-border cooperation is essential for protecting fisheries, it involves more than provincial and state agreements regarding the sharing of data and perspectives. Fishermen want commitments regarding the watersheds that impact our fisheries to be backed up by the full force of the U.S. government and Crown because that offers the greatest chance that they will be binding and upheld over time."

B.C. is moving forward with an aggressive program of mine development in the transboundary region bordering Southeast Alaska, projects that threaten clean water, wild salmon, tourism, indigenous communities and Alaska’s unique way of life. Thousands of Alaskans have requested that the International Joint Commission, created under the Boundary Waters Treaty, examine potential risks to Alaska posed by the multitude of mine developments in B.C.

Heather Hardcastle of Salmon Beyond Borders said, “We thank Lt. Governor Mallott and the Walker Administration for their continued attention to our transboundary mining concerns and are glad that Minister Bennett has made the effort to visit Southeast Alaska and to engage with us directly. We agree with Mr. Bennett that the status quo cannot continue. However, we continue to believe that an international solution under the Boundary Waters Treaty is the best way to ensure that BC’s mining does not adversely impact Alaskan fish, water and way of life. We need financial assurances prior to the permitting of projects that monitoring and remediation of accidents will be funded over the long term and that Alaskans would be compensated if BC mining damages fisheries and water quality." Salmon Beyond Borders is a diverse coalition of fishing, tribal, tourism and other organizations concerned about B.C. mine development in the transboundary region.

In Wednesday's meeting in Juneau with Minister Bennett, there was general agreement that business as usual cannot continue and that there is a clear need for more dialogue between Alaskans and BC officials. However, BC officials could not provide concerned Alaskans with a clear plan or timeline as to how Alaskan’s concerns are managed and addressed.

Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders said, “I think some progress was made in demonstrating our concerns and explaining our proposed solution to utilize the Boundary Waters Treaty. Increased involvement in the B.C. permitting process is not a bad thing, but it is not a solution on its own. In other words, we stand firm for the need of an international solution under the Boundary Waters Treaty. We are encouraged and thankful that Lt. Governor Mallott will continue to engage with the State Department on this issue."




Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Sources of News:

Office of Alaska Lt. Governor Mallott

Alaska Trollers Association

Salmon Beyond Borders

Rivers Without Borders


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