Canadians and Americans Demand No More Mount Polleys

Chris Zimmer : Apr 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,
Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, Professor of Anthropology, University of British Columbia,

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.”

Statement of Opposition to Continued Permitting of Wet Tailings Facilities in BC. Click on image to view or download pdf.

Statement of Opposition to Continued Permitting of Wet Tailings Facilities in BC. Click on image to view or download pdf.

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 The report’s principal recommendation calls for an end to outdated “hundred year old” wet tailings storage and conversion to “dry stack” tailings systems.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 more information:, and


Red Chris Mine Gets Permit Despite Recommendation Against Tailings Technology Used

Chris Zimmer : Feb 24.2015

February 24, 2015

Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders


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.”

To view or download this press release in pdf format, please click on the image above.

To view or download this press release in pdf format, please click on the image above.

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.

Senator Begich Contacts State Department About Protecting Alaska Fisheries

Lety Hopper : Aug 7.2014


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.”

To view or download Senator Begich's letter to Secretary Kerry, click image above.

To view or download Senator Begich’s letter to Secretary Kerry, click image above.

Tailings Dam Failure Emphasizes Risk to Southeast Alaska’s Salmon

Chris Zimmer : Aug 6.2014

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,

Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association 907-772-9323,

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.

To view or download the pdf version of this release, click image above.

To view or download the pdf version of this release, click image above.

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.

Alaska fishing boat near Ketchikan. Photo by Rivers Without Borders.

Alaska fishing boat near Ketchikan. Photo by Rivers Without Borders.

“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: likely-bc/ should-not-have-happened-bill-bennett-says-1.2727776

Shuswap Nation Tribal Council Condemns Mount Polley Mine Inaction –

For more information on the proposed KSM Mine:

New map of proposed transboundary headwaters development

Lety Hopper : May 1.2014

In collaboration with Eclipse GIS, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and Suskwa Research, Rivers Without Borders has just released an updated map of proposed development in the headwaters of the transboundary watersheds.

Massive open-pit metals and coal mines, numerous pipelines, transmission lines, hydroelectric complexes, roads and rail are all proposed for the region, and some are already in the process of construction.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

With subsidized power brought to the region by BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line,  BC plans 6 major minerals mines for the transboundary headwaters in the near future. The massive Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine proposal straddles both the Unuk and Nass watersheds. The Red Chris, Schaft Creek, and Galore Creek mine proposals are all in the Iskut-Stikine watershed, and Brucejack is just next door to KSM. The Tulsequah Chief mine is an extremely controversial proposal in the Taku watershed.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Mineral claims pummel the landscape, and mining companies are vying for a piece of the action. BC plans a mining district with some of the largest holes in the world pockmarking this pristine wilderness.

The Alaska – BC transboundary region represents an extraordinary conservation opportunity. These watersheds share exceptional wild salmon and wildlife habitat, and are as yet largely intact. They are also of profound cultural importance to the First Nations and Native Alaskans that have long called them home. This region sustains huge commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries, as well as recreation, tourism, and guiding businesses on both sides of the border.

Check out the map of development plans for the region by clicking on the image to view or download a larger version.

Canadian Mines Threaten Southeast Alaska Salmon, Tourism and Tribal Resources

Chris Zimmer : Mar 26.2014


Fishing and Tribal Organizations Call for U.S. State Department Action to Protect Alaska’s Interests

March 26, 2014


JUNEAU, ALASKA — Southeast Alaska’s clean water, billion-dollar salmon and tourism industries, and tribal resources face threats from large-scale Canadian mining and other developments. Swift action by the U.S. State Department is warranted to protect U.S. interests. A group of Alaska fishermen and tribal leaders hand delivered that message today to members of Alaska’s congressional delegation and the State Department.

Letter to Alaska Delegation about transboundary headwaters. Click image to view and download.

Letter to Alaska Delegation about transboundary headwaters. Click image to view and download.

At least five large-scale mines are planned for northwest British Columbia in watersheds that drain into salmon-bearing rivers of Southeast Alaska.  One project, called Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM), rivals in size and scope the giant, highly controversial Pebble mine proposed for Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska. If built, developers say KSM would be the world’s largest gold and copper mine. The deposit sits in the headwaters of the salmon-rich Unuk River, which drains into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, a major tourist attraction.

Carrying a letter signed by a diverse group of 40 businesses, tribes, trade organizations and individuals, the group of Alaskans visiting the nation’s capital this week includes representatives from Alaska Trollers Association, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association and Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. They will meet with Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young, and State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior officials to deliver the message about what’s happening in northwest British Columbia, directly across the border from Southeast Alaska.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

“Alaskans rely on healthy salmon and other fish species to fuel our economy.  The seafood industry is the largest private employer in Alaska. Here in the Southeast region, over 5,000 commercial-fishing families provide jobs and revenue for the state and dozens of small towns without road access. Tourism is also an important economic driver, and sport fishing and subsistence are crucial for our sustenance and quality of life. Large-scale development in sensitive habitat is not conducive to productive ecosystems that feed fishing communities in Alaska and British Columbia,” said Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association.

Kelley and the other delegates, including Brian Lynch, executive director of Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, long-time Juneau seiner Bruce Wallace and Raymond Paddock III of Central Council Tlingit and Haida, are deeply concerned by the rapid pace of B.C.’s mining development in transboundary watersheds, including the Taku, Stikine and Unuk–some of Alaska’s most prized salmon-producing rivers.  They would like to see concrete guarantees that Alaska’s water and fish will not be harmed by British Columbia’s development.

“These rivers are the region’s top producers of wild salmon and eulachon. We cannot afford to sit quietly as these mines are being developed on an accelerated timeline. The risk of pollution in the form of acid mine drainage is very real, while the benefit of these mines to Alaska is basically zero. We are asking the Alaska delegation to see that the State Department protects our downstream interests and works with Canada to ensure this unique international salmon-producing region is not negatively impacted by industrial development,” said Lynch.

Commercial and sport fishing businesses and organizations, guides, outfitters, seafood processors, Alaska communities and Alaska Native organizations all signed the letter of concern. It follows more than 350 public comments, mostly from Southeast Alaskans, last fall expressing concern about the development of the KSM mine and how it could affect Southeast Alaska’s salmon and other resources.

Central Council Tlingit and Haida, the largest federally recognized tribe in Southeast Alaska, representing some 29,000 tribal citizens, is among the organizations expressing concerns about transboundary mine development. The council, along with several other Southeast tribes, has passed resolutions of concern. The Juneau-based tribal council also signed the letter delivered to the Alaska delegation this week. One of the tribe’s chief complaints is the absence of government-to-government consultation about what’s happening upstream from its customary and traditional use areas.

“There has been a lack of tribal consultation with us about matters that affect our fisheries, our customary and traditional harvesting, and our way of life.  Harvesting fish and wildlife constitutes the nutritional, spiritual and cultural foundation of Alaska Native tribal citizens. We must be included in any decisions about mines that could affect us,” said Paddock.

The letter is available for download here and supporting documents are available for download here. Economic information about the value of commercial fishing to Southeast Alaska is available here.


BC’s Proposed New Water Sustainability Act

Tadzio Richards : Nov 18.2013

Rivers Without Borders has submitted public comments on the British Columbia government’s proposed new Water Sustainability Act. We acknowledge and appreciate the progress made in modernizing the province’s antiquated Water Act. However, we also note there is room for significant improvement in several areas of the new Act. This includes:

  • The new Act should respect First Nations’ rights and title in all aspects.
  • The Act must protect environmental flows that are critical for healthy functioning watersheds.
  • The Act needs to include explicit commitment to more public participation in local decision-making, including adding provisions that would allow public citizens to object prior to license issuance, and appeal the granting of a license.
  • The Act must include mandatory environmental flow requirements and water objectives.

Protecting water and fish habitat is at the heart of the work of Rivers Without Borders and we strongly support a stronger Water Act for British Columbia.

To read the full comments from RWB and from many others on the proposed new Act, please see the BC government’s Water Sustainability Act website.

It’s public comment time on the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine!

Rivers Without Borders : Sep 13.2013

The proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine would be a massive open-pit mining complex in northwest British Columbia in the headwaters of the Unuk River, just upstream of Alaska’s Misty Fiords National Monument. The project has entered the Environmental Assessment process, and the 45-day public comment period is right now, from September 6, 2013 to October 21, 2013.

This mega-mine, comparable in scale to the proposed Pebble Mine, threatens water quality, wild salmon and wildlife, and the fragile, remote ecosystems that support them in both the Unuk and Nass River watersheds.

Site of the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine in the BC transboundary headwaters. Once constructed, the mine would process 130,000 tonnes of ore per day over a mine life of 55 years. Photo courtesy of Mike Fay.

Site of the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine in the BC transboundary headwaters. This would be one of the largest open-pit mines in North America in the heart of one of the continents wildest watersheds. Photo courtesy of Mike Fay.

At KSM, Seabridge Gold proposes a combined open-pit and underground gold, copper, silver, and molybdenum mine about 65 kilometres northwest of Stewart, B.C. It would process 130,000 tonnes of ore per day over a mine life of up to 55 years. It poses a serious risk to water quality and salmon and wildlife habitat in both the Unuk River and the Bell-Irving, a major tributary of the Nass River.

Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine proposal briefing. Click image to view or download pdf.

Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine proposal briefing. Click image to view or download pdf.

To learn more about the proposed KSM project, please go to the briefer at right.

Take this opportunity to make your voice heard during the public comment period for the mine.

  • Downstream Alaskan interests must be addressed in these international watersheds.
  • KSM must provide stronger safeguards for salmon and water quality before the Canadian permitting process proceeds any further.
  • KSM must address what happens if their predictions and hopes regarding water quality and salmon are wrong…how will accidents and unexpected events be dealt with?
  • KSM is likely to foster other mining development nearby, yet the cumulative effects of such development on the region have been largely ignored.
  • The 45-day public comment period that ends on October 21 is not enough time for the public to evaluate the proposed KSM project, the five thousand plus page environmental document accompanying it, and the enormous implications for the region. The deadline for public comment should be extended by another six months.
  • Canadian and BC government agencies, and Seabridge should hold public meetings in Southeast Alaska prior to any permitting decision on the KSM project.

KSM is subject to review under both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Act.

Please click on this link,, to submit your comments directly to the BC and Canadian governments. Thank you!

The Proposed Red Chris Mine in the Iskut-Stikine Watershed

Tadzio Richards : May 9.2013

Rivers Without Borders has just released a new conservation briefing on the Red Chris Mine Proposal. Located18 km southeast of Iskut, B.C., the proposed Red Chris open pit copper-gold mine, owned by Imperial Metals, would destroy prime wildlife habitat for Stone’s sheep and grizzly bear on Todagin Mountain, and leave a tailings impoundment that would pose a long-term risk to fish habitat and water quality in the headwater lakes of the Iskut River.

Red Chris Mine Briefing. Click on image to access document.

Red Chris Mine Briefing. Click on image to access document.

The mine is currently in the initial phase of construction, but cannot go ahead without power from the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL). In March 2013, Imperial Metals and BC Hydro announced that Imperial Metals would build a 93 km extension of the NTL to Tatogga Lake and the proposed mine. BC Hydro agreed to buy the extension for $52 million. The line will not require a new environmental assessment, and has been exempted by the government from reviews that would normally be required to determine if it was necessary or if construction costs have been properly assessed.

Within the region, the NTL could be the catalyst for an unprecedented wave of industrial development in northwest B.C., including up to 11 new mines in the transboundary watersheds of the Unuk, Iskut and Stikine Rivers. These watersheds are some of the last remaining largely intact watersheds in North America, sustaining robust populations of wild salmon and wildlife such as Stone’s sheep, grizzly bears, wolverine, and migratory birds. If built, the new mines would bring open pits, industrial roads, greenhouse gas emissions, tailings ponds, and the risk of acid mine drainage throughout the watersheds. If it proceeds, Red Chris would be the first of these mines to be developed.

British Columbia’s Lack of Transparency over Controversial Northwest Transmission Project Denounced: FOI Appeal Filed

Tadzio Richards : Oct 10.2012



October 10, 2012

British Columbia’s Lack of Transparency over Controversial Northwest Transmission Project Denounced: FOI Appeal Filed

The B.C. government is refusing to disclose basic background information with respect to a controversial power project proposed for northwest British Columbia. Rivers Without Borders, the conservation organization that filed the freedom of information (FOI) request, today called on the Information Commissioner to intervene.

The FOI request concerns one of the most significant rural electrification projects in the province’s history. After several months of delay, the B.C. government responded to Rivers Without Borders’ request by releasing 76 blank pages. “We think this is a blatant disregard of a request for information that the public has a right to know,” says Tadzio Richards, Conservation Campaigner with Rivers Without Borders. “We have lodged a complaint with B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.”

Green Infrastructure Fund agreement with BC dated June 30, 2010. Click on image to see agreement.

Construction of phase one of the mammoth $561 million Northwest Transmission Line (NTL) from Terrace to Bob Quinn Lake began this spring. However, whether, how and when a controversial extension of the line 100 km further north will be built remains uncertain. If built, the extension will dramatically escalate resource development in the region.

The federal government kicked in $130 million from the Green Infrastructure Fund for phase one of the NTL project on the condition that the B.C. government take responsibility for building the extension. The stated rationale for this arrangement was that the extension would provide clean (non-diesel) electricity to two small First Nations communities. However, according to the Pembina Institute, if mining and development activity facilitated by the extension is factored in, the net effect of the extension would dramatically increase the amount of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the project.

British Columbia was required to submit its plans for the extension project by June 30, 2012 under the federal-provincial funding agreement. Six weeks before this deadline, the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) filed an FOI on behalf of Rivers Without Borders to confirm whether these plans exist, and if the province intends to do an environmental assessment of the extension project. Over a hundred days later, the B.C. government responded by providing a document consisting of 76 blank pages, along with five emails that were almost completely redacted.

“In building the transmission line, B.C. has promised to connect northern communities to the grid in exchange for millions in federal funding,” says Richards. “So far, the B.C. government has provided no evidence that they will fulfill their green obligations. This power line looks like it is being built for mines rather than communities.”

Letter of Commitment from B.C. to Canada dated June 22, 2010. Click on image to see letter.

The government’s response in this case is consistent with what FOI advocates have complained is a broader trend toward secrecy and non-disclosure, particularly where Cabinet documents or politically sensitive information or deliberations are involved.

“British Columbians need to be reassured that their provincial government respects its obligations under B.C.’s freedom of information laws, and that it is committed to a transparent process for the evaluation of the very significant environmental impacts associated with the NTL extension in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and cumulative effects” says Chris Tollefson, ELC Executive Director. “To date, the government’s record on this file provides little confidence on either front”.

On behalf of Rivers Without Borders, the ELC is requesting the Information Commissioner review the response, arguing the government has misinterpreted its obligations under B.C.’s FOI legislation and, as a result, has withheld information it is legally required to disclose.

The B.C. government’s response to the FOI request can be seen here: