State Department Responds to Plea to Address Transboundary Mine Issues

State Department officials say they are exploring possible approaches to present to their Canadian counterparts when they meet in late October to discuss boundary waters matters, including transboundary mining issues.

The State Department told the Alaska congressional delegation this past week that they are actively engaging with Canada on protecting shared waters, an issue they recognize as being of significant concern to Alaska. Potential impacts of mining in shared waters in British Columbia and Alaska are discussed in semi-annual dialogues between the two nations, said Julia Frifield, assistant secretary for legislative affairs within the State Department.

Frifield also said some baseline water quality testing has already begun and Congress may make additional funding available for that purpose.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was encouraged that it appears the State Department understands the importance of this issue to many Alaskans, but is disappointed that the State Department has refused to suggest suggestions, including one to consider appointing a special representative for US-Canada transboundary issues.

The proposed development of several mines in British Columbia along transboundary rivers, as well as at least one existing mine, concern commercial, sport and subsistence fish harvesters in Southeast Alaska, as well as tourism and other businesses dependent on salmon, who feel these mines have great potential to adversely affect salmon habitat. Only agreements on a federal level can ensure financial protections to be in place in the event that environmental pollution occurs.

While Alaska and British Columbia have reached a memorandum of understanding on this issue, it comes with no financial guarantees.