Alaska, BC Begin Talks on Mining, Water

The governments of Alaska and British Columbia say they have begun implementing their statement of cooperation to address concerns over potential impact of mining near transboundary rivers over salmon habitat.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett were among those engaged this past week in the first bilateral working group teleconference on this issue.

A statement of cooperation signed by both governments in October provides for coordinating on a water quality monitoring program and exchange of information regarding the environmental performance of British Columbia mines.

While they have come a long way, with the help of residents of both countries in addressing these concerns, success will be measured only by how well the bilateral working group does going forward, Mallott said. A team of six technical staff representing both governments responsible for developing the joint monitoring program will work with tribes, First Nations, federal agencies and stakeholders over the next four months to prepare a draft program description and work plan for consideration by the bilateral working group. The statement of cooperation calls for the draft plans for the water quality monitoring program and the communication plan to be taken up by the bilateral working group no later than April 2017.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation plans to host a public workshop to provide opportunity for the public to give input to the technical staff of ADEC, the Alaska Departments of Fish and Game, and Natural Resources who are working on plans for the joint water quality monitoring program.

Salmon Beyond Borders, a campaign group of commercial harvesters and others, meanwhile is continuing to urge an agreement between the federal governments of the US and Canada that includes enforceable protections and financial guarantees for transboundary rivers, should the mines adversely impact salmon habitat.