Fish Radio

Mine breach in BC hurts AK fish

August 7, 2014                                    

Mount Polley Mine dam breach Credit:  cbc

Mount Polley Mine dam breach
Credit: cbc

 This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Mines in neighboring British Columbia pose big threats to Alaska salmon. More after this –

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Just as the big sockeye run gains steam at the Fraser River, a massive tailings dam breach at an open pit gold and copper mine in British Columbia has contaminated headwaters for miles. Tailings, or mine dumps, are the materials left over and stored behind big dams forever after the valuables are extracted.

On Monday a dam break at the Mount Polley Mine emptied 10 billion liters of mud, rock and toxins and 4.5 million meters of metal-laden fine soil into Cariboo region waterways.

 The United States has a harvest-sharing arrangement for Fraser sockeye and pink salmon through provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. So any problem associated with salmon production on the Fraser will affect U.S. fishermen.

 Brian Lynch is director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association. The BC Ministry of Environment said it warned mine owner Imperial Metals repeatedly about the tailings pond before the devastating breach as recently as May. The company reportedly had no contingency plans in case of a dam failure and no analysis of the dam’s structural integrity was done as part of the permitting. Imperial Metals plans to open the Red Chris Mine in the Stikine River watershed this fall.

 More than a half dozen similar mines are planned in British Columbiat that are upstream from Alaska.  They all will have tailings dumps similar to the Mount Polley Mine.

Guy Archibald is with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council

 They’re all basically the same systems. They have to comply with the same regulations and design criteria.

 Southeast Alaskans’ biggest concern surrounds the KSM Mine, 19 miles from the Alaska border, at the headwaters of major trans boundary salmon rivers. KSM will be one of North America’s largest open pit mines. It’s dam plans have already been approved by Canadian officials.

 Petersburg’s Lynch pointed out the Mount Polley dam was too.

 This was not only obviously a tailings dam failure but it appears to be a regulatory oversight failure as well. And that’s what we want to prevent on any mines going into the trans boundary systems.

 Comments on environmental impacts of the KSM mine can be made through August 20th at  Find links at  

 Thanks to the assist from Coast Alaska.  

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. ( In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.