FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 28, 2015
Monty Bassett, Documentary Filmmaker, 250-877-0961 or 250-847-5605
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, 907-586-2166 or 907-988-8173, Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org
Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, Professor of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Diverse group of Alaska Tribes, members of First Nations, businesses, organizations, scientists and individuals calls for end to wet mine tailings storage in B.C.
Today a large and diverse group of Canadians and Americans called on the British Columbia (B.C.) government to halt the permitting of wet tailings facilities for new and proposed mines in B.C. based on the Independent Expert Panel recommendations on the Mount Polley mine tailings disaster. Eighty-seven Alaska Native tribes, members of B.C. First Nations, businesses, prominent individuals, scientists, and conservation groups signed a letter to the B.C. government calling for a shift to newer and safer dry tailings storage technology.
“Wet tailings impoundments are an unacceptable financial and environmental liability now and for future generations,” said letter organizer Monty Bassett. “A failure by the B.C. government to stop further construction of wet tailings storage facilities would be a blatant disregard for safety and its own commitments to adopt Best Available Technologies and Practices. Dry stack is a proven tailings technology. Mining industry complaints about costs fly in the face of the Mount Polley report recommendation that costs should not trump safety.”
These concerns are based on recommendations by the Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel, which released a report on the Mount Polley tailings failure in January 2015. The report found that unless significant changes are made in the way B.C. tailings dams are designed and maintained, more failures can be expected. The report’s principal recommendation calls for an end to outdated “hundred year old” wet tailings storage and conversion to “dry stack” tailings systems. According to page 120 of the report, “Improving technology to ensure against failures requires eliminating water both on and in the tailings: water on the surface, and water contained in the interparticle voids. Only this can provide the kind of failsafe redundancy that prevents releases no matter what.”
“We cannot afford another Mount Polley, especially at mines like Red Chris or the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM), which are much bigger and will have more toxic acidic tailings,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “Unless there are major changes to B.C. tailings storage, we will soon see more dangerous dams built across B.C. and in the headwaters of major transboundary salmon rivers such as the Stikine, Taku and Unuk. These tailings dumps will be toxic time bombs poised upstream of vital salmon habitat.”
Despite the Mount Polley report’s recommendations, just days after the Panel released its report, B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines issued an “interim operating” permit for a wet-tailings facility at the Red Chris mine in northwestern B.C., in the headwaters of the transboundary, salmon-rich Stikine River. The interim permit expires May 4, 2015. The Red Chris facility, also owned by Imperial Metals, is similar to the one that failed at Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine in August, releasing almost 25 million cubic meters (6.6 billion gallons) of mine waste water and tailings into the Fraser River watershed.
“It is reckless for B.C. to permit the kind of outdated watered tailings facility at Red Chris that failed at Mount Polley and that the expert panel specifically recommends against,” said Zimmer. “The panel called Mount Polley a ‘loaded gun’ and B.C. is loading the chamber at Red Chris.”
According to an independent expert report commissioned by Imperial Metals, “any failure of the Red Chris impoundment will likely have a much more significant environmental impact than the Mount Polley failure.” This is also true of other mines such as KSM. The proposed KSM tailings facility is roughly six times that of Mount Polley’s.
“We know that a dam failure at mines like Red Chris or KSM could have far worse consequences than Mount Polley, yet the B.C. government and the mining industry are avoiding the one thing that could reduce the risk of such a failure,” said Zimmer. “The costs of such failures to downstream communities could dwarf the costs of implementing changes now.”
The lessons of Mount Polley show that tailings failures are very difficult and expensive to clean up, there are no insurance policies for tailings dams, mine company bonding doesn’t pay for accidents or disasters, and there are no clear mechanisms to compensate injured parties. Industry often can’t pay, which means either B.C. taxpayers end up paying for substantial environmental liabilities, or cleanup and compensation doesn’t happen.
“What we are saying is to do Red Chris right,” said author Wade Davis, who owns a lodge at the base of Mount Todagin where Red Chris is situated. “In the wake of Mount Polley, how can we trust wet tailings storage? Can we not expect the safest mine technology possible from Imperial Metals?”
The letter was sent to Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines; Mary Polak, Minister of Environment; Al Hoffman, Chief Inspector of Mines; Diane Howe, Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines; Norm MacDonald, MLA, Opposition Critic for Energy and Mines; and Doug Donaldson, MLA, Stikine.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 24, 2015
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders
RED CHRIS MINE GETS PERMIT DESPITE RECOMMENDATION AGAINST TAILINGS TECHNOLOGY USED
B.C. Commitment To Mount Polley Report Mining Reforms In Doubt
The British Columbia (B.C.) government’s decision to grant Imperial Metals an interim permit for the tailings facility at the Red Chris mine only three days after an independent review panel of the Mount Polley dam failure specifically recommended against this type of tailings technology is raising doubts about the provincial government’s commitment to implement all the mining reforms in the Mount Polley panel report. The Red Chris facility is similar to the one that failed at the Mount Polley mine in August, releasing almost 25 million cubic meters (6.6 billion gallons) of mine waste water and tailings into the Fraser River watershed.
“B.C. appears to be rushing Red Chris, which contradicts its own promises to implement all the recommendations of the Mount Polley expert panel,” said Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director for Rivers Without Borders. “It is reckless for B.C. to permit the kind of outdated watered tailings facility at Red Chris that failed at Mount Polley and that the panel specifically recommends against. The panel called Mount Polley a ‘loaded gun’ and B.C. has just loaded a round into the chamber at Red Chris.”
The Panel concluded “Mount Polley has shown the intrinsic hazards associated with dual-purpose impoundments storing both water and tailings.” It rejected “any notion that business as usual can continue” in B.C., noting that, without major changes, “on average there will be two [tailings dam] failures every 10 years and six every 30.” The Panel said B.C. is using outdated technology and recommended dry stack or similar Best Available Technologies for new tailings facilities, stating the cost of better technologies should not override safety.
B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said, “What we learn from this incident and how we respond to ensure it never happens again is profoundly important to British Columbia and to the mining industry…We will implement all of these recommendations…”
“Downstream salmon fisheries in Alaska could be ruined by a dam failure at B.C. mines proposed in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds,” said Zimmer. “The Panel recommendations should be fully and immediately applied at mines such as Red Chris, KSM and Tulsequah Chief. The Panel meant its recommendations to be implemented as a package, not a list to pick and choose from based on the cheapest options.”
Despite the Minister’s promise, on February 2, 2015, just one business day after the issuance of the panel’s report, the B.C. government gave the Red Chris mine – owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that owns Mount Polley – an interim permit to begin filling and “testing” its watered tailings facility in the headwaters of the Iskut River, the major tributary to the Stikine, one of the most important salmon producing systems in the transboundary region.
“B.C. ignored the fundamental recommendation from the Mount Polley panel report in issuing this permit for Red Chris,” said Zimmer. “Here was a test of B.C.’s commitment to the Mount Polley panel recommendations and it failed. People on both sides of the border will be closely watching to see if B.C. backs up its promises with real actions and real reform.”
An independent expert review of the Red Chris watered tailings impoundment design and construction found numerous concerns similar to those that have been raised about Mount Polley, including similar soil conditions and dam design. These experts also said, “any failure of the Red Chris impoundment will have a much more significant environmental impact than the Mount Polley failure.” No major modifications have been made to the design.
“The similarities between Mount Polley and Red Chris are worrisome. Even worse, experts say a dam failure at Red Chris would be much worse than the Mount Polley disaster,” said Zimmer. “It defies common sense that B.C. issued a permit for Red Chris right after the Mount Polley report recommended against that type of tailings facility.”
In an apparent attempt to relieve Alaskan concerns, Bennett stated that Alaskans “do not have the kind of information and understanding of how we do things here in British Columbia that they need to have.” He is now proposing a symposium in Southeast Alaska to discuss mining practices and explain B.C.’s “rigorous” mine permitting process.
“If B.C.’s process is so rigorous, how did a dam permitted by B.C. to last essentially forever fail in less than 20 years? Why has the Tulsequah Chief been polluting the Taku watershed for over 50 years? Instead of insulting Alaskans by telling us we don’t know what’s going on, Bennett should immediately fully implement the Mount Polley report recommendations, clean up the Tulsequah Chief, and support a mechanism like the International Joint Commission that would be far more effective in resolving this issue than a one-day conference,” said Zimmer.
December 19, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Rob Sanderson Jr., Co-Chair, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, 2nd Vice President, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, email@example.com, 907-821-8885
Carrie James, Tribal Council Treasurer, Ketchikan Indian Community, Co-Chair, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, firstname.lastname@example.org, 907-821-8167
Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director, Rivers Without Borders, email@example.com, 907-586-2166
Dale Kelley, Executive Director, Alaska Trollers Association, firstname.lastname@example.org, 907-586-9400
Brian Lynch, Executive Director, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, email@example.com, 907-772-9323
CANADA GREENLIGHTS CONTROVERSIAL MINE NEAR ALASKA BORDER
DECISION DISREGARDS CONCERNS FROM ALASKA FISHERMEN, TRIBES, TOURISM OPERATORS, LAWMAKERS AND CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION
(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.
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.
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.
Visit www.salmonbeyondborders.org for more information.
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.
The end of 2014 is a good time to reflect on what Rivers Without Borders is trying to do, and why …
As the director of Rivers Without Borders (founded 15 years ago this month!), I focus on the watersheds of northwest British Columbia and southeast Alaska. But recently I attended two conferences outside that realm. One was about the Columbia River basin. The other was about Puget Sound. What struck me most about both gatherings was the extent and diversity of environmental problems being addressed within these two iconic water systems, and the amount of money, energy, and scientific expertise that’s being poured into them to try to restore a vestige of the ecological productivity that’s been squandered by development over the past century. The director of the Puget Sound Partnership made this point with an interesting illustration. As she put it, emphasizing degrees of complexity, “There’s baking a cake. Then there’s putting someone on the moon. And then there’s trying to restore Puget Sound.” As in stopping industrial pollution. Resurrecting estuaries and wetlands. Getting salmon around dams. Addressing pesticide and herbicide runoff from agriculture. Urban growth. Exotic species. Stream channeling. Logging. Mining. Removing heavy metals from water and sediment. Turning reservoirs back into rivers. And on and on with many hundreds of millions of dollars being spent chipping away at these daunting challenges.
In the BC – Alaska transboundary region, we don’t have to spend a dime on habitat restoration. Its watersheds are still amazingly intact and, not coincidentally, world class wild salmon strongholds rich in biodiversity. Close to perfect. All they need is humility to let them be; foresight to keep them as is.
That’s why Rivers Without Borders is determined to stop Tulsequah Chief, an extremely controversial mine proposal slated for the Taku, the largest totally intact watershed on the Pacific coast of North America and the transboundary region’s number one salmon system. And why we’re raising awareness of other mining proposals in transboundary watershed headwaters – the KSM mega mine in particular – and encouraging calls for an international conversation about the future of these international rivers.
With the needs of salmon in particular driving concern, the downstream demand for careful consideration and safeguarding of what we have, before we lose it, is growing. Most recently the National Congress of American Indians and several Alaska Native associations passed formal resolutions asking for the convening of an International Joint Commission under the auspices of the Boundary Waters Treaty to address headwaters mining concerns. Seven southeast Alaska communities have now passed formal resolutions for the same thing. This echoes what we’ve been calling for, namely ecosystem-based planning and decision making about these watersheds. This means getting downstream interests heard and registering upstream, across the border, where development is proposed. The international conversation. This, we believe, is the best hope for advancing conservation.
We have a long way to go, but we’ve made some real progress. The future of the Taku looks brighter, thanks to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation’s lawsuit and fishermen standing up to a really bad mine proposal on Alaska’s doorstep just upstream of the Taku’s premier salmon habitat. And there’s a rising tide of voices saying it can’t be business as usual in the BC – Alaska transboundary watersheds. Here we still have a chance to save some spectacularly wild and intact working ecosystems. With humility and foresight.
Best wishes for the new year ahead.
The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) proposed mine is a massive project comprised of four deposits that would be mined as a combined open-pit and underground block-cave mine. The proposed operation is so big it would straddle two watersheds – the Unuk and the Nass – in two locations connected by twin 23-km (14 mile) long tunnels – extending under a glacier – which would transport miners and ore between the pits, and the mill and tailings impoundment. It is expected to process between 120,000 to 180,000 tonnes of ore per day over a mine life of 55 years. Opposition to the project has increased, with some analysts comparing it to the proposed Pebble Project in southwest Alaska.
Significant risks include:
- Unfavorable economics – KSM’s low grade ore, remote location and lack of infrastructure make its economics problematic according to analysts.
- Mining under glaciers has seldom been tried and is difficult – Very few mining companies have attempted it for a mine of this size, and significant operational challenges have occurred when they have, including tragic consequences.
- Unprecedented water management – KSM would need to process almost 21 BILLION gallons of water per year compared to Pebble’s proposed 13 billion and the Bingham Canyon mine’s 3 billion gallons per year.
- Legal uncertainties – the twin tunnels run under property claimed by two other companies who are currently suing each other. Both contest Seabridge’s access rights. First Nations also have concerns about the project.
- International opposition – KSM is opposed by eleven U.S. federally recognized tribes, and southeast Alaska’s billion-dollar commercial fishing industry.
Check out the report!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 10, 2014
Chris Zimmer, Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org, 907/586-2166
CHIEFTAIN METALS’ TULSEQUAH CHIEF BARGING PLAN AT ODDS WITH PAST BARGING PROBLEMS AND STUDIES SHOWING BARGING WON’T WORK
Taku River Barging Faces Renewed Opposition in Alaska
(Juneau) Chieftain Metals’, on October 20, announced an update to the December 2012 feasibility study for the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine. The most significant change is a plan to access the mine using barges on the Taku River, rather than via an access road to Atlin, British Columbia.
“This flip-flop from road to barge is very surprising. None of the barging efforts by Chieftain in 2011 and previous mine owner Redfern in 2007 and 2008 worked as planned and Chieftain’s own access report concluded in 2011 that none of the barging options were practical,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “The threat of salmon habitat damage from groundings and accidents, as well as spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other chemicals, will certainly raise concerns in Juneau.”
Concentrate and supplies would be shipped to and from the mine using conventional river barges for five months a year, with concentrate to be barged to Seattle for export to Asia. Few details about the proposed barging plan have been provided. A Technical Report will be released by December 4.
Chieftain’s October 2011 assessment of several barging alternatives concluded none of the options would work. The assessment isn’t publicly available, but a Chieftain briefing paper from January 2012 summarized the results of the study:
“The Downstream Access Practicability Assessment Report, which was completed in October 2011,…concluded that none of the barging options were practical due to low flow levels on the river which are insufficient to sustain operational requirements….Additionally, the economic and financial implications put the project at risk of being unable to proceed.”
Chieftain’s own Feasibility Study from December 2012 raises several significant problems with barging:
- “Regarding the 2013 (and to a lesser extent, 2014) barging campaign, there is a risk the river levels will not support a four to six week campaign.”
- “…the Tulsequah River is not easily navigated due to high and variable flows, debris hazards, and shallow areas…would require more or less continuous dredging during the shipping season to maintain an open channel. The period available to conventional barging varies from year to year, ranging from less than three months to as much as six months;”
“The new plan calls for five months of barging a year, but experience and Chieftain’s own Feasibility Study show this is unrealistic,” added Zimmer. “It is very unlikely Chieftain would be granted Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Army Corps of Engineers permits for river dredging.”
Problems with previous barging include:
- In May 2008 Redfern announced plans to ship 20,000 tons of supplies to the Tulsequah Chief site in 200 barge loads, yet was only able to accomplish about 30 barge runs due to river conditions. Redfern called this a “key challenge” in announcing third quarter financial results.
- In 2007 and 2008 there were numerous reports of barge and tug groundings (none of which were reported to the U.S. Coast Guard as required by law). In July 2008 a tug almost capsized.
- In June 2011, Chieftain was unable to complete all planned barge runs due to low water levels. Chieftain planned 8 trips that fall but couldn’t do any of them due to low water, causing a loss of $750,000.
Since buying the mine in 2010 Chieftain has emphasized a road is vital to mine development and that barging isn’t viable. “Chieftain’s own studies show barging won’t work. Experience to date shows barging on the Taku is extremely challenging and unreliable. This latest plan seems a recognition the mine and road are not economical and is a desperate last ditch attempt from a company that has demonstrated little ability to move this project forward,” said Zimmer.
Redfern’s conventional barging in 2007 and 2008 generated much concern in Juneau. In 2011 Juneau legislators formed the Taku River Task Force to look into concerns about river barging. Chieftain COO Keith Boyle emphasized in his testimony to the Task Force that Chieftain had determined river barging is “impracticable” and investors were not supportive of barging.
The mine would be in northwest British Columbia, very close to the Alaska border and just upstream of some of the Taku River’s premier salmon habitat. The new barging proposal is likely to face strong opposition in Juneau. The Taku is Southeast Alaska’s most productive salmon river and has significant commercial and recreational use. Barging could interfere with commercial, sport and personal use fishing, river navigation, floatplane landings and Alaska Department of Fish and Game research. Fishermen would undoubtedly again raise concerns about habitat damage due to barges grounding and plowing through the river bottom. Accidents and spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other toxins are a distinct possibility. It is unlikely any kind of river dredging would be approved by regulatory agencies.
“This new barging plan fails to recognize the realities of the Taku River. It is shallow and fast, with frequently changing gravel bars and lots of logjams. The Taku is a tremendous fishery, with a large constituency of users in Southeast Alaska. Chieftain’s barging plan flies in the face of these realities, past experience and Chieftain’s own studies, and it will face a lot of opposition in Juneau,” said Zimmer.
For a pdf version of this release, click here.
High-Ranking Alaskans Call On U.S. State Department To Intervene With Canada Over British Columbia Mine ThreatsChris Zimmer : Aug 21.2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 21, 2014
With Mt. Polley Mine Disaster Highlighting Risks to Alaska from Canadian Mining Push, and KSM in the Final Stages of Review, Secretary of State John Kerry Should Invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty to Protect Alaska
Dale Kelley, Alaska Trollers Association, firstname.lastname@example.org, 907-586-9400
Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, email@example.com, 907-772-9323
John Morris, Jr., United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, firstname.lastname@example.org, 907-617-6991
JUNEAU, Alaska —A broad coalition of Alaskans, including the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation and some of its largest commercial fishing organizations, urges U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene with Canada as large-scale mine developments in British Columbia (B.C.) near Alaska’s southeast border rapidly advance. The request comes in the wake of the Mt. Polley mine disaster in B.C. and with the Canadian province’s approval of a large-scale mine called KSM (Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell) near Alaska. KSM is one of several Canadian mine projects, located near international rivers flowing from B.C. into Southeast Alaska, that threaten Alaska’s multi-billion-dollar seafood and visitor industries and pose unacceptable risks to the environment.
This month’s catastrophic accident at the Mt. Polley mine underscores the risk Southeast Alaska faces from large-scale B.C. mine development, including five acid-generating projects located in the Unuk, Stikine and Taku River watersheds, some of Southeast Alaska’s most productive and lucrative salmon-bearing rivers. The five mines are part of a larger mineral development push by B.C. Premier Christy Clark who has pledged to create eight new mines and expand nine more by next year.
The newly constructed Red Chris mine, located in the Stikine River watershed, upstream from the Alaska communities of Wrangell and Petersburg, is set to start operations soon. Red Chris is owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that operates Mt. Polley, and is currently being blockaded by citizens of the Tahltan First Nation.
The tailings dam breach at Mt. Polley unleashed an estimated 2.6 billion gallons of mine wastewater and 6 million cubic yards of sand, contaminated with tons of copper, nickel, arsenic and lead, into waterways leading to the Fraser River, one of Canada’s biggest salmon producers. The massive Aug. 4 spill coincided with the annual return of an estimated 1.5 million salmon to the Fraser River.
“This failure may affect salmon stocks managed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. A similar failure at mines proposed near the Unuk, Stikine and Taku Rivers would directly affect fishery stocks upon which commercial and recreational fishermen depend, as well as the subsistence and cultural needs of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of my state,” wrote Sen. Mark Begich in a letter to Sec. Kerry this month.
Alaska fishing and tribal leaders agree and are also calling on Sec. Kerry to act with urgency.
“Our culture, food security and livelihoods depend on wild salmon. Although the mines are in Canada, the fish rely on transboundary waters as part of their life cycle and these waters know no borders. The State Department needs to ensure that these fish and the rights of our tribal citizens are respected,” said John Morris, Jr., co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, an organization representing a broad section of Southeast Alaska’s federally recognized tribes.
Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association, also urges State Department action.
“My organization represents over one thousand fishing families in Alaska who rely on the pristine waters of Southeast Alaska for their income. There are thousands more residents with an interest in the fish and wildlife of this region. Any threat to these waters from Canadian mines is a threat to the U.S. economy and a matter that we hope Secretary Kerry will take seriously. I realize he’s busy on a variety of diplomatic fronts, but this is an international problem on the U.S. border and we need his focus on this,” said Kelley.
The Mt. Polley disaster “has renewed the specter of environmental impacts from large-scale mineral developments in Canada that are located near transboundary rivers,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski to Kerry on Aug. 8. “This incident should compel the State Department to evaluate additional steps that may be warranted to safeguard U.S. interests.”
Congressman Don Young also called for Kerry’s help, specifically on the proposed KSM mine near Ketchikan. KSM is a massive gold and copper open-pit mine project about 19 miles north of Alaska’s border that has already received B.C. provincial approval. The Canadian federal government is currently evaluating the project and is expected to make a decision this fall.
Alaskans, including three state commissioners and several Alaska legislators, and the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, have called on the Canadian federal government to elevate the environmental review of KSM to the highest possible level, a process called a Panel Review.
“Alaskans will face only downstream risk associated with KSM but will gain no direct employment or other economic benefits from this project. While there are no absolute guarantees that a Panel Review would prevent a catastrophe like what just happened at Mt. Polley, that level of scrutiny is the only thing that gives us any assurance that a similar catastrophe won’t happen again, this time polluting Alaska’s rich fishing grounds,” said Brian Lynch, executive director of the Petersburg organization, which represents over 100 commercial fishermen and businesses operating primarily in Southeast Alaska.
Since last fall when the KSM mine underwent provincial review, more than 1,000 Alaskans have weighed in with public comments, asking for more scrutiny of KSM, as well as the other transboundary mineral developments, and for State Department intervention. Many have cited the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada as a tool Kerry could use to address the threats to Alaska imposed by the B.C. mines. The treaty states “that the waters herein defined as boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other side.”
“Using the Boundary Waters Treaty might get the Canadians’ attention. At least it would start the conversation,” said Lynch.
More at www.salmonbeyondborders.org
Senator Murkowski writes:
“The tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley Mine on August 4th has renewed the specter of environmental impacts from large-scale hardrock mineral developments in Canada that are located near transboundary rivers.”
“…this incident should compel the State Department to evaluate additional steps that may be warranted to safeguard U.S. interests.”
“One such step would be to encourage Canada’s federal government to undertake a Panel Review of the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine in British Columbia.”
U.S. Senator Mark Begich issued a statement on August 6th in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the Mount Polley tailings dam failure in British Columbia.
“This week’s failure of the Mount Polley tailings pond dam in British Columbia validates fears Alaska fishermen have regarding Canada’s proposed development of large-scale hardrock mineral mines near trans-boundary rivers with Alaska.”
“A similar failure at mines proposed the near Unuk, Stikine and Taku Rivers would be devastating to fish stocks which Alaska commercial and recreational fishermen depend on, as well as the subsistence and cultural needs of the Alaska Native residents of Southeast.”
For Immediate Release: August 6, 2014
Rob Sanderson, Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Working Group, 907-821-8885, email@example.com
Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association 907-772-9323, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dale Kelley, Alaska Trollers Association, 907-568-9400
BC Mines Planned for Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers
A giant tailings dam ruptured early Monday morning at a British Columbia (B.C.) copper and gold mine, releasing roughly five million cubic meters of toxic wastewater into the Fraser River watershed. The dam failure at Mount Polley Mine, operated by Imperial Metals, Ltd, sent large volumes of more than a dozen toxic heavy metals and chemicals into Hazeltine Creek, prompting local emergency response officials to warn residents not to drink, cook with, bathe in, or come into contact with the effluent. Dead fish have already been reported. Hazeltine Creek is a tributary to the Fraser River, home to roughly a quarter of Canada’s sockeye salmon and associated commercial fishing fleet. News of the tailings pond breach caused Imperial Metals’ stock to drop by 44 per cent on Monday, falling from $9.47 to $7.43 per share.
The tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley Mine emphasizes concerns raised by Southeast Alaskan commercial fishing leaders, tribes, and communities about the proposed Kerr- Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) Mine and other mines proposed on the Taku and Stikine Rivers. The KSM Mine is one of a dozen large open pit mine proposals currently under review on the B.C. side of the transboundary region, all of which pose potential risks to the region’s $1 billion a year fishing industry, $1 billion a year tourism industry, and customary and traditional activities. If developed, the KSM Mine will be among the largest open pit mines in the world.
Brian Lynch of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association draws parallels between the Mount Polley Mine and the proposed KSM Mine. “This is exactly the type of disaster we are trying to avoid on the Unuk and Nass Rivers by seeking a higher standard of environmental review for the KSM project. Will that in itself prevent this sort of disaster? That is the billion dollar question without a guaranteed answer. We urge that Canada issue no new mine permits in the transboundary river region until there is a full investigation of this accident and guarantees that similar accidents won’t occur at larger mines proposed in the Unuk, Stikine and Taku watersheds.”
Monday’s event occurred near Quesnel, B.C. at the upper reaches of the Fraser River drainage, where Imperial Metals operates and maintains a tailings facility used to store toxic wastewater generated from open pit mining. The tailings pond was contained behind an earthen dam constructed in 1997 using modern technology. Imperial Metals also plans to open the Red Chris Mine, a large-scale open pit mine proposal at the headwaters of the Iskut River, the largest tributary to the transboundary Stikine River, later this year.
“The impact of the Mount Polley breach on both humans and wildlife is both sad and ironic, particularly as we prepare comments on a massive mine proposed for the Unuk River, home to one of Southeast’s biggest king salmon runs,” said Dale Kelley, Executive Director of the Alaska Trollers Association. “Mount Polley’s tailings pond is just a fraction of the size of the holding facilities proposed for KSM mine. What assurances do U.S. and Canadian fishermen have that our livelihoods and communities will be protected if those dams fail?”
The KSM Mine, a proposed copper, gold, and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Unuk and Nass rivers, plans to extract 130,000 tons of ore per day for 52 years. Mines of that size generate considerable waste rock and polluted water which, similar to the Mount Polley Mine, are stored in tailings facilities and behind dams. The proposed KSM tailings facility is roughly six times that of Mount Polley’s. Tailings dam failures aren’t as rare as some may believe. One 2012 peer-reviewed study of currently operating copper mines in the U.S. found that 28% experienced partial or full tailings dam failure.
Responding directly to the Mount Polley Mine incident, President Richard Peterson of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which represents more than 29,000 tribal citizens said, “Central Council sees this as a stark reminder why we need much more study, stronger guarantees from Canada and more engagement by the US and Alaska before mines like KSM go ahead to ensure our cultural and traditional resources are protected.”
On July 29, BC granted the Seabridge Gold Inc. an environmental assessment certificate for the proposed KSM Mine. It is now under review by the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency at the mid-level “Comprehensive Review” with a public comment period open through August 20.
For more information on the Mount Polley Mine tailings dam breach: http://globalnews.ca/news/1490361/tailings-pond-breach-at-mount-polley-mine-near- likely-bc/
Shuswap Nation Tribal Council Condemns Mount Polley Mine Inaction – http://shuswapnation.org/news/
For more information on the proposed KSM Mine: