It is heartening to see BC Minister Bill Bennett visited the Taku River and flew over the Tulsequah Chief mine when he was in Juneau recently. It is encouraging that Mr. Bennett recognizes the problem of continued acid mine drainage pollution from this mine into one of Southeast Alaska’s most important salmon rivers. I hope he is sincere in his intention to finally clean the river up. It has been more than 55 years since the mine operated, yet it still continues to drain acid and heavy metals into the Tulsequah and Taku Rivers.
I would politely point out that Mr. Bennett’s statement that “scientists on both sides of the border say there isn’t any environmental harm from what’s going into the Tulsequah River” is misleading and inaccurate. There has never been a comprehensive study of the effects of these pollutants on water quality, sediment, invertebrates and the numerous fish species in the Tulsequah and Taku Rivers. Nor is it known where all the toxic heavy metals are ending up. The mine owner, Chieftain Metals, paid for a study in 2013, but it was narrowly focused. The pollution currently threatens one of Southeast Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers and could harm salmon marketing efforts based on the pristine nature of the Taku River.
In addition, the all too recent Mount Polley tailings dam disaster serves as a reminder of the tenuous thread between irreparable damage to long term sustainable fisheries, tourism, community independence, and short term gains of risky industrial enterprise. We have only to look at examples like the Ok Tedi mine spill on the Fly River in Papua New Guinea to see long-term cumulative damages to water quality, fish and animal habitat, and human health. It takes a matter of minutes for a tailings dam to break. How many more dollars do we tax payers want to spend on insufficient clean-ups? How many clean waterways, food sources and economic and cultural assets can we all afford to lose? With many more mines planned for this region, let’s commit to taking care of the messes already in existence. I appeal to law makers and citizens on both sides of the river to consider the effects of current decisions on our own children’s futures, and the worthy futures of all who live downstream.