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, and 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.
One thing Moselle and environmental and tribal entities do agree on is that pollution from the Tulsequah Chief mine into the Tulsequah River, in violation of project permits and B.C. laws, has gone on for too long.
The state of Alaska has worked with B.C. officials for over a decade to get the site’s legacy issues addressed, Moselle said. Mine reclamation and closure, especially for a legacy mine site that was designed and operated prior to modern environmental laws is complicated and will take significant time to properly complete, he said.
Meanwhile, Alaska remains committed to working with B.C. under a memorandum of understanding and cooperation for mutually beneficial outcomes that protect transboundary waters shared by both jurisdictions, he added.
Conservation and tribal entities that participated in the virtual meeting said the presentations did little to allay or meaningfully address their long-term concerns regarding transboundary salmon runs that continue to plummet.
While it is encouraging that B.C. is taking some action regarding the Tulsequah Chief’s pollution, the lack of funding and lack of action to hold any of the previous owners of the mine accountable raises concerns about B.C.’s commitment to a “polluter pays” policy, said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. 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,” Salmon Beyond Borders Campaign Director Jill Weitz commented.
Prior to the virtual meeting, eight legislators from Southeast Alaska voiced concerns to B.C. Prime Minister John Horgan about future 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,” they said.
The legislators said that without binding international agreements and funds for long-term water quality testing, Alaskans and British Columbians remain unprotected from the threat of significant water pollution and associated impacts from upstream mining activity.