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Canada Greenlights Controversial KSM Mine Near Alaska Border

Chris Zimmer : Dec 19.2014

December 19, 2014


Rob Sanderson Jr., Co-Chair, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, 2nd Vice President, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska,, 907-821-8885
Carrie James, Tribal Council Treasurer, Ketchikan Indian Community, Co-Chair, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group,, 907-821-8167
Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director, Rivers Without Borders,, 907-586-2166
Dale Kelley, Executive Director, Alaska Trollers Association,, 907-586-9400
Brian Lynch, Executive Director, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association,, 907-772-9323



(Juneau, Alaska) – A proposed mega-mine in Canada near Alaska’s rich salmon fisheries moved a step closer to development today.

Canada’s federal government approved the controversial Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine project located in northwest British Columbia (B.C.) just 19 miles from the B.C./Southeast Alaska border. In doing so, Canada rejected calls from thousands of Canadians and Alaskans, including the state’s congressional delegation, individual legislators, fishing organizations, tribal leaders, and tourism operators for a “Panel Review” of the mine project in the B.C. headwaters of the transboundary Unuk River that drains into Misty Fiords National Monument near Ketchikan, Alaska. Canadian mine proposals that pose significant risks, like KSM, can be subject to the independent, expert scrutiny of a Panel Review—the highest level of environmental review allowed under Canadian law.

Since the B.C. provincial government has already approved the KSM proposal, the project now proceeds to the B.C./Canadian interagency permitting process.

“Given the size of KSM, the potential for tailings dam failures, long-term acid mine drainage and other threats to Alaska’s downstream waters and salmon, a Panel Review would have provided a more rigorous way to assess whether or not KSM can be developed without compromising water quality or fisheries in the Unuk. Canada’s rejection of a Panel Review is yet another reason why we can’t depend on the Canadian mine review process and need U.S. State Department action,” said Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association.

Press Release on from Salmon Beyond Borders and the UTTMWG on KSM federal approval. Click this image to view or download the press release.

Press Release on from Salmon Beyond Borders and the UTTMWG on KSM federal approval. Click this image to view or download the press release.

If built, KSM would be one of the world’s largest open pit mines. The design calls for three open pits, one underground mine, and large tailings and waste rock dumps that would contain 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 leach into the surface and ground water and pollute the Unuk River.

“The Canadian government has disregarded our concerns about how KSM could pollute our waters and destroy our salmon fisheries and jobs. Salmon and clean water underpin our culture, economy, and way of life. I’m extremely disappointed,” said Carrie James, tribal council treasurer of the Ketchikan Indian Community and co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, a consortium of 12 tribes working together to protect transboundary rivers.

James noted that the same Canadian regulators that approved KSM allowed the Mount Polley mine to operate. Mount Polley, in central B.C., experienced a catastrophic tailings dam failure on August 4, 2014, unleashing an estimated 6.6 billion gallons of tailings and wastewater into waters leading to the Fraser River, one of Canada’s most important salmon rivers. It’s been called one of Canada’s worst environmental disasters.

“Mount Polley was a wake-up call for us. We can’t let Alaska waters be polluted by B.C. mine waste,” said James.

If it receives permits and financing, KSM would be a huge, acid-generating mine, similar to the proposed Pebble mine in southwest Alaska. Pebble has turned into the one of the world’s most heated environmental controversies because of the huge risks it poses to Bristol Bay’s rich sockeye salmon fisheries.

With its approval of the project today, the Canadian government concluded, as long as KSM carries out the proposed mitigation, “the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

“Canada assumes that KSM’s developer, Seabridge Gold, will be able to mitigate KSM’s pollution. But there’s no guarantee the untested and unprecedented water treatment system will work. The stakes are too high to simply assume a mine of this size, with such massive long-term water-treatment needs, and with such huge amounts of toxic waste to contain, can be operated without polluting water and salmon habitat,” said Chris Zimmer, a sport fisherman and Alaska campaign director of Rivers Without Borders, a non-governmental organization working with several partners on the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign.

CEAA Environmental Assessment Statement on KSM project. Click this image to view or download.

CEAA Environmental Assessment Statement on KSM project. Click this image to view or download.

Many Alaskans say polluted discharges from KSM could violate the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States that states “waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.” The treaty provides for an International Joint Commission (IJC) to review transboundary water issues and provide recommendations to avoid pollution across the Canada/U.S. border.

“We have a storm brewing on the B.C./Alaska border. The Alaska congressional delegation has written to the State Department with concerns and now we need our representatives in Washington, D.C. to formally request the State Department to refer this matter to the IJC. Our new governor, Bill Walker, also needs to speak out. The time is now, folks,” said Rob Sanderson Jr., co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group and 2nd vice president of Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

KSM is the largest of six major B.C. mines currently proposed in the transboundary region bordering Southeast Alaska. These mines are located near three key salmon rivers, the Taku, Stikine and Unuk, which flow from B.C. into Alaska. The mines are in various stages of permitting and development, and all raise red flags for many Alaskans, including tribes, commercial and sport fishermen, tourism operators, municipalities and political leaders who have spoken out in numerous resolutions and letters.

“Our concerns are not about just KSM. We are worried about the long-term effects across a broad landscape, including the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers, from numerous open pit and underground mines, roads, energy projects and other industrialization that is happening without any binding international process to address the long-term and cumulative effects of such development. Canada’s mine review process is not equipped to address these concerns. But that is exactly what the IJC can review,” said Brian Lynch, executive director of Petersburg Vessel Owners Association.

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Salmon Beyond Borders is a growing community of sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, Tribal and First Nations members, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend our transboundary salmon rivers from some of the largest proposed mines the world has ever seen. Find us online here or on Facebook.

For more about the proposed KSM mine, check out our webpage on the Unuk watershed.