Officials Continue to Press Canadian Government on Transboundary Mining
By MARY KAUFFMAN
August 20, 2018
In a recent letter addressed to the Canadian Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna and Minister of International Trade James Carr, Sen. Sullivan and Lt. Governor Mallott thanked the Canadians for their attention to transboundary mining issues while also stressing several key areas of concern that require continued attention.
“While Alaska, British Columbia, the U.S. Department of State, and Global Affairs Canada have been working well together on a path forward, including conducting water quality surveys and exploring monitoring options, there is much progress that still needs to be made to address mutual concerns,” wrote Sen. Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mallott.
The Taku, Stikine and Unuk are world class transboundary rivers whose headwaters are located in British Columbia and flow into Southeast Alaska. These rivers harbor iconic salmon and other fish populations and the greater watersheds, nearly the size of Maine, have been center of culture, commerce and biodiversity for thousands of years.
The rivers are not only important for their wildlife, people, and history but today they are significant contributors to the regional economy. These rivers account for $48 million in economic activity each year and are also significant contributors to the commercial fishing and tourism industries drawing $1 billion annually. The United States already protects these waters under environmental laws.
For years the British Columbia government has authorized large scale, hard rock mining developments upstream of these watersheds. There are at least ten open-pit and underground metal mines in various stages of development with some of these legacy mines contribution to releases of hazardous material that could have impacts on the downstream ecosystem in Southeast Alaska. As an example, the letter mentioned the Mount Polley mine's tailing dam failure in 2014 releasing approximately 24 million cubic meters of waste.
Sullivan and Mallott wrote in their letter that these developments pose real concerns to communities downstream even as British Columbia is works through options to clean up legacy sites while at the same time permitting new developments.
Earlier, to address these issues, the State of Alaska and the Province of British Columbia entered into a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at increasing coordination and transparency as the governments work to protect these watersheds. Both governments have also developed a Statement of Cooperation. These agreements established a bilateral working group.
Sullivan and Mallott acknowledged in the letter that Alaska, British Columbia, the U.S. Department of State, and the Global Affairs Canada have been working well on a path forward, including water quality surveys and exploring monitoring option; however, they wrote there is much progress that still needs to be made to address mutual concerns.
To continue the dialogue Sullivan and Mallot raised several of the issues in their letter that both governments need to address going forward:
1. All diligence needs to be taken to reclaim the Tulsequah Chief Mine site. While British Columbia continues to march through the process of cleaning up the site, we hope that you can continue to lend your aid in coordinating and facilitating B.C.’s efforts.
2. Both U.S. and Canadian governments need to continue to develop and agree upon a definition of a scientific protocol for 3-5 years of independent studies focused on the baseline/reference conditions of water quality and fish/wildlife populations in transboundary watersheds.
3. Canada urged to support establishing and funding a joint water quality monitoring program for the transboundary rivers. In 2017, the U.S. Congress appropriated funding for transboundary river stream gages and directed the Bureau of Indian Affairs and United States Geological Survey to enter into a formal partnership with local tribes to develop a water quality strategy for transboundary rivers. According to the letter, this is vitally important not just to understand the impacts of existing operations, but to have baselines to assess future projects and protect Alaskans downstream. Canada was urged in the letter to undertake similar efforts.
4. The Canadian federal government was requested consider conducting a review of the existing legacy, proposed, permitted, and operating mines in U.S.-B.C. transboundary watersheds under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
5. Canada was urged through Global Affair Canada, to seriously consider the analysis developed by the United States to identify gaps in our different regulatory structures and continue our partnership to address these issues as we look toward the next meeting of the Department of State and Global Affairs Canada.”
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