British Columbia’s Commitment to Mining Prompts Growing Fisheries Concerns

In the wake of the release of an independent expert engineering investigation and review into the Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia, a watershed-based conservation group is voicing concerns over approval of a new permit for another BC mine.

Chris Zimmer, Alaska campaign director for Rivers Without Borders, says he questions the provincial government’s decision to grant Imperil Metals, of Vancouver, BC an interim permit for filling and testing its watered tailings facility at the Red Chris Mine, a copper and gold property in Northwest BC. That tailings facility is similar to the one at Mount Polley, which the independent report recommends against, he said.

The lengthy Mount Polley report predicts more dam failures if reforms are not implemented. Specifically, on Page 118 of the report, reviewers said “if the inventory of active tailings dams in the province remains unchanged, and performance in the future reflects that in the past, then on average there will be two failures every 10 years and six every 30. In the face of these prospects, the Panel firmly rejects any motion that business as usual can continue.”

The Red Chris mine sits above the nine lakes of the headwaters of the Iskut River in the Iskut-Stikine watershed, a major salmon producer in the transboundary region.

Commercial and conservation groups in Alaska meanwhile have been working with Alaska’s congressional delegation to encourage an International Joint Commission study into the potential implication of several mines planned or permitted in British Columbia.

“Right now there is no process to investigate the long term, cumulative effects of this major industrial development on downstream water, fish and jobs, especially across the broad region of the Taku, Stikine/Iskut, and Unuk watersheds over the long term,” Zimmer said. “There is no process that gives Alaskans a meaningful seat at the table where we can obtain and enforce guarantees that upstream BC development will not harm our downstream interests.”

An IJC study “would give us an equal seat at the time, and it would give the public a forum for speaking out,” said Heather Hardcastle, a spokesperson for Trout Unlimited in Southeast Alaska. Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, said commercial fishermen have also expressed their concerns to the Alaska congressional delegation for an IJC study, which would address, among other things, how to make whole those engaged in transboundary fisheries, should mine development and operation have adverse affects on fisheries.