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House Fisheries Committee hears concerns about potential negative impacts of B.C. mining operations

U.S. State Department Responds to Transboundary Concerns


October 18, 2016
Tuesday AM

(SitNews) Juneau, Alaska - The Alaska State House Fisheries Committee last week heard the concerns of numerous Alaskans and Canadians about the potential negative impacts of British Columbia (B.C) mining operations on rivers shared by the two countries.

“I haven’t eaten fish from the Fraser River in years - that is a loss of our culture. When I hear about B.C. mines, I worry about your culture here,” said Bev Sellars, chair, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining. “We need this issue to be taken up by the International Joint Commission. You’ve got to get a binding agreement in writing.”

The Taku, Stikine, and Unuk watersheds all originate in British Columbia and flow into Southeast Alaska.
Map courtesy: McDowell Group: Economic Impact Analysis Southeast Alaska Transboundary Waters - October 2016

Commercial fishermen, business owners, municipal and Tribal leaders, world-renowned fisheries and mining experts, concerned residents and B.C. First Nations leaders told the Committee that large-scale mining in the watersheds of transboundary rivers including the Taku, Stikine and Unuk, poses a threat to jobs and livelihoods on both sides of the border.

Many who testified asked state leaders to formally request the involvement of United States and Canadian federal governments on this issue.

“The value of the transboundary rivers is not just important to Southeast salmon fishermen, but also affects the overall Alaska salmon industry,” said Chip Treinen, commercial fisherman and United Fishermen of Alaska board member. “In order to have binding commitments that protect habitat by encouraging the highest standards of environmental protection, elevation to the International Joint Commission through the Boundary Waters Treaty seems to be a necessary action. I hope that Governor Walker, Lt. Gov Mallott and the legislature will unite in encouraging Secretary Kerry to take this issue to the International Joint Commission.”

Recently, the State of Alaska and B.C. signed a non-binding agreement focused on transboundary waters. At last Wednesday’s public hearing, many Alaskans asked how the state will fill gaps unaddressed by the document. Specifically, many who testified requested financial assurances for liabilities and enforceable measures that would protect the clean water, fisheries, jobs and ways of life in the transboundary region.

“Presently, the B.C. government is not putting safety before economics as recommended by the Mount Polley Expert Panel,” said Dr. Dave Chambers, geophysicist and president of the Center for Science in Public Participation. “Moreover, B.C. is not implementing other key recommendations of the Mount Polley Expert Panel - a body appointed by the province to determine what went wrong at Mount Polley and how to avoid similar tailings dam failures in the future.”

According to a recent study from McDowell Group, the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers combined account for $48 million in economic activity annually, including multiplier effects. The present value of the three watersheds combined is just under $1 billion over a 30-year timeframe. McDowell Group also notes that, with appropriate management, Southeast Alaska's transboundary watersheds can generate economic benefits in perpetuity.

In response to a letter that U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young (all R-AK) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry last month, the U.S. State Department told the Alaska Congressional Delegation in a letter that it will remain in close contact with concerned Alaskans and are committed to identifying the best ways to resolve shared concerns about risks posed to water quality and livelihoods in Alaska by mining activities in British Columbia.

“I am encouraged that it now appears the State Department at least understands the importance of transboundary water issues to so many Alaskans, because understanding an issue is the first step in addressing it. And it is promising to see the State Department show an elevated interest in this topic, as demonstrated by recent trips to the state to meet with concerned Alaskans,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “That being said, I remain disappointed that the State Department refuses to address our questions and suggestions, such as to consider appointing a special representative for U.S.-Canada transboundary issues. And it is unacceptable that Secretary Kerry has yet to meet directly with Alaskans on such a hugely important issue. The State Department’s response is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go until Alaskans’ concerns are adequately addressed.”

“I am glad the Department of State and other Administration officials have finally initiated steps to engage key stakeholders as well as the governments of Canada and British Columbia on these pressing transboundary water issues. Yet, further progress is necessary to address the questions the delegation and Alaskan stakeholders have raised,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “We must all continue to work collaboratively toward solutions that ensure Canadian resource extraction is conducted in a manner that safeguards the vibrant downstream interests in Southeast Alaska.”

“The people of both Alaska and Canada have a mutual interest and desire to develop their own potential natural resources, but we must stay engaged and communicate when the actions of one can have implications on the other,” said Congressman Don Young. “Ongoing and proposed mining activities in Canada have brought tremendous concerns to the people of Southeast Alaska -- specifically with the Tlingit and Haida people – which is why I have always engaged with the delegation to prioritize and facilitate outreach between all parties involved. Although I am pleased to hear about certain progress being made to implement portions of the memorandum of understanding and to address the concerns of Alaskans, I still believe there’s much work to be done.”

The U.S. State Department’s letter listed the efforts it has taken to address transboundary water issues, including:

  • Visiting Alaska last August at the invitation of the Central Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska to discuss tribal concerns related to mining activities;
  • Meeting with Governor Bill Walker, Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, commercial fishing leaders, business owners, and conservation leaders;
  • Hosting a meeting in April in which the State Department and EPA raised the concerns of potential mining impacts with their Canadian counterparts from Global Affairs Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada; and
  • Committing to raise the issue with their Canadian counterparts in upcoming bilateral meetings.

The State Department further noted and welcomed the delegation’s efforts to prioritize baseline water quality monitoring in Southeast Alaska.

The delegationpraised State Representative Louise Stutes’ work on the House Fisheries Committee in hosting the transboundary hearing in the Alaska Legislature on October 12, 2016.


On the Web:

McDowell Group: Economic Impact Analysis Southeast Alaska Transboundary Waters - October 2016

U.S. State Department's Transboundary Response Letter - October 2016

Letter to Sec. John Kerry September 2016 (pdf)


Reporting & Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Salmon Beyond Borders

Office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski

Office of U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan

Office of Congressman Don Young



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