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Canadian Feds Move to Approve Controversial KSM Mine Proposed Near Alaska: Public Comment Period Starts Today

Chris Zimmer : Jul 21.2014



Rob Sanderson, Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, 907-821-8885,
Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association 907-772-9323,
Abe Tanha, Hooked on Juneau, 907-723-3612,
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, 907-586-2166,


Canadian officials today announced the start of a new 30-day public comment period on the Canadian federal government’s environmental assessment of the controversial Kerr Sulphurets Mitchell (KSM) mine proposal.  In their assessment they write, “The Agency is satisfied that identified mitigation measures for the Project would address potential impacts in Alaska on fish; recreational and commercial fisheries and human health from changes to water quality and quantity in the Unuk River.” Meanwhile, hundreds of Alaskan tribal members, fishermen and business owners feel differently.

Last fall, more than 250 Alaskans wrote to Canadian officials expressing their concerns about how pollution from KSM could taint Alaska waters, with significant harm to salmon, fishing jobs, tourism and customary and traditional activities.  Today, Canada’s Environmental Assessment Agency opened another public comment period, which may be the last opportunity for Alaskans to raise their voices in the Canadian permitting process on KSM.

“Alaskans from across Southeast Alaska are concerned about the long-term risks KSM poses to water quality, fisheries, customary and traditional activities, and jobs.  The assessment of KSM, including today’s report issued by Canadian federal officials, has not adequately addressed those concerns and this  is our last chance to persuade Canada to build in safeguards to our downstream interests,” said Rob Sanderson, second vice president of Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Working Group.  “One way for Canada to do this would be to establish what is known as a Panel Review, which would provide an opportunity to better address our concerns.”

Seabridge Gold proposes to build KSM, one of the world’s largest open pit mines, in the headwaters of the Unuk and Nass Rivers, just 19 miles from the Alaska border. The Unuk, which begins in Canada and flows into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, is a key Southeast Alaska king salmon and eulachon river. The Nass is British Columbia’s (B.C.) third largest salmon river, producing fish that are caught by both Canadians and Alaskans. Alaskan tribes, fishermen and businesses are concerned that the KSM mine, with its three open pits, one underground mine, and large tailings and waste rock dumps will produce billions of tons of acid-generating waste and toxic sludge. The dumps and polluted water will have to be maintained and treated in perpetuity to ensure acid mine drainage and toxic heavy metals do not pollute the Unuk and the Nass Rivers and impact Southeast Alaska’s water and fisheries.

B.C. has finished its review of the KSM proposal and is expected to approve the project this summer. The Canadian federal government, which must give final approval, released its assessment today, which concluded that KSM’s proposed mitigation measure would safeguard Alaska’s fisheries and human health.

Many Alaskans strongly disagree, saying polluted discharges from KSM could violate the Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States. The treaty states in part that “waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”

“This is a rare issue that has united Southeast Alaska tribes, businesses, fishermen, elected leaders and conservationists out of concern for our water, fisheries and jobs.  While the proposal has basically sailed through B.C’s permitting process, today’s opening of a final comment period provides a last opportunity for Alaskans to put the brakes on this risky project that rivals the proposed Pebble project  in size and like Pebble is also proposed in sensitive salmon habitat,” said Brian Lynch, executive director of Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, a trade group representing a large segment of the Southeast Alaska commercial fishing fleet.

Canadian mine proposals that are especially controversial and pose great risks to the environment can be subject to an environmental review process known as a “Panel Review.” A Panel Review of KSM would provide the best opportunity during the mine permitting process to properly address Alaskans’ concerns about the mine’s potential negative impacts to Alaska fish, water and other downstream resources.

“Canada’s assessment is based on the assumption that all of Seabridge’s proposed mitigation measures will work as promised.  Yet there is no guarantee, no real-world example, of a mine with such massive water treatment needs, with huge amounts of toxic waste that will have to be monitored and treated for centuries, in an area of such high value salmon habitat.  Unproven promises are no basis to move this project forward.  A Panel Review is needed to specifically and more rigorously analyze whether or not these mitigation measures will work, and what happens if they don’t.  We call on Canada to do a more rigorous job of protecting our downstream interests and are also urging the State of Alaska and our US federal representatives to lean on Canada to conduct a more thorough analysis through a Panel Review,” said Chris Zimmer, Alaska director of Rivers Without Borders.

“It is really important for Alaskans to engage in this commenting process. Canada needs to hear how much we value our fisheries. We all need to do as much as we can,” said Abe Tanha, owner of Hooked on Juneau, a sport fishing company.

The comment period starts today and will run through August 20.  More information on KSM and transboundary mining can be found at

For a pdf version of this press release, click here.