Final reports of a transboundary rivers water quality monitoring program and a reclamation plan for a mine that has been leaking acid drainage for decades have been released by British Columbia and Alaska officials are drawing mixed reviews.
“We are proud of the joint water quality monitoring work we completed with B.C. in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds,” said Kyle Moselle, executive director of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Project Management and Permitting. Their findings, he said, contribute to a growing scientific understanding of the current and evolving ecological conditions in these watersheds.
As for the Tulsequah Chief Mine, which has for decades continued to leak acid drainage into transboundary waterways, Moselle acknowledged that it’s complicated.
One thing Moselle and environmental and tribal entities do agree on is that the pollution into the Tulsequah River, in violation of project permits and B.C. laws, had gone on for too long.
The state of Alaska has worked with B.C. officials for over a decade to get legacy issues of this site addressed, Moselle said, adding that mine reclamation and closure, especially for a legacy site that was designed and operated prior to modern environmental laws, is complicated and will take significant time to complete properly.
Meanwhile, the two governments are continuing to discuss financial securities for mine reclamation and other regulatory updates, he said, including improvements following completion of an audit of compliance and enforcement of the B.C. mining sector.
Alaska is committed to continue working with British Columbia under a memorandum of understanding and cooperation for mutually beneficial outcomes that protect transboundary waters shared by both jurisdictions, he explained.
Conservation and tribal entities who participated in a May 19 virtual meeting on the matter said the presentations did little to allay or meaningfully address their long-term concerns and requests regarding transboundary salmon runs that continue to plummet.
Chris Zimmer of nonprofit conservancy group Rivers Without Borders said that while it is encouraging that B.C. is taking some action regarding the Tulsequah Chief’s pollution, the lack of funding or action to hold any of the previous owners of the mine accountable raises concerns about B.C.’s commitment to a “polluter pays” policy.
Political, community and indigenous leaders on both sides of the border also support requiring owners of transboundary mines to post a full reclamation bond at permitting to ensure mine cleanup at closure to avoid the kind of chronic pollution caused by the Tulsequah Chief mine.
“Sharing information is good, but it doesn’t protect the communities of this region from the industrialization of the headwaters of our largest salmon-producing rivers,” said Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders.
Even prior to the virtual meeting, eight legislators from Southeast Alaska voiced deep concerns to B.C. Prime Minister John Horgan about future large-scale mining projects planned along transboundary waterways.
They noted in a May 7 letter to Horgan that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is poised to list Chinook salmon runs of the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers as stocks of concern.
“Similarly, Stikine River sockeye salmon runs are forecasted to not meet subsistence needs and B.C. salmon stocks are historically low,” the letter states in part.
The legislators also said that the non-binding, unfunded B.C.-Alaska Memorandum of Understanding and Statement of Cooperation on Protection of Transboundary Waters are important communication tools, but without binding international agreements and funds for long-term water quality testing, downstream Alaskan and British Columbians remain unprotected from the threat of significant water pollution and associated impacts from upstream mining activity.
“Binding international agreements, water and wildlife monitoring, and reclamation bonds are important steps forward,” they said.
The presentations made during the May 19 virtual meeting are now posted online at http://dnr.alaska.gov/commis/opmp/Canadian-Mines/.
Archived changes in the audit of compliance and enforcement of the Mining Sector are also available online at https://archive.news.gov.bc.ca/releases/news_releases_2017-2021/2020EMPR0022-001117.htm.