Transboundary waters in BC/AK get more scrutiny
January 10, 2016
This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Protecting Alaskan rivers from mining upstream. More on plans in the works after this –
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Not in my back yard takes on a whole new meaning when it refers to huge mines upstream from local rivers. That brought Alaska and British Columbia officials together via teleconference last month to begin outlining protections for major salmon producing transboundary waters in Southeast that are less than 20 miles downstream from huge BC mining operations.
“We’re trying to create a big tent here with a very specific process of engagement and sharing and review and critical examination of all of those things that we need to.”
Lt. Governor Byron Mallott is point person for Alaska. Up to a dozen BC mines are already operating or in the works, some are the biggest in North America. Most are open pit mines that leave behind massive tailings dumps that hold leftover mining wastes forever after the valuables are extracted.
The Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation will take the lead on water quality concerns, and BC will do the same for its province Terry Lomax, DEC manager of monitoring and assessment, says programs are already underway.
“They are collecting water and sediment contaminants of concern, like trace metals. That kind of information is going to help us in deciding how to narrow down our focus and really pick the right parameters and methods to be looking at.”
Other state agencies will work on protocols for BC’s permitting process. Lt. Governor Mallott:
“You can never say nothing will drop through the cracks. But at least we will have a process and a working relationship that is stronger and more focused and with a value construct that did not exist before.”
One large mine, the Red Chris, began operating two years ago in the Stikine River watershed. BC’s Tulsequah Chief as been closed for decades but is still leaking pollutants into the Taku.
Moving forward, Heather Hardcastle with Rivers Beyond Borders wants Alaska to push for stricter protections.
“We would like to see enforceable protections and financial assurances that we will not be negatively impacted by upstream mining in BC and I still don’t see how the state of Alaska is pushing for those.”
The state will have more information available this month, Mallott said; another meeting with British Columbia is scheduled within six months.
Thanks to the assist from APRN’s Coast Alaska.
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