Summary: The Tulsequah Chief mine is a priority for all the agencies involved. This meeting was largely conversational but given the myriad agencies involved these meetings are important for stakeholders to be able to state their individual concerns in their own words to groups they may not regularly communicate with. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says in closing, “the more we can do in working together,” is better than being “reactive” in response to emergencies.
Canadian commissioner of the IJC Pierre Beland gives closing remarks saying that there has been increased cooperation between Canadians and Americans, and increased engagement with First Nations, or tribal peoples. Collaboration is the way to go, but he says that the IJC will make efforts to not interfere with local efforts that are already achieving productive results.
Technical experts are offering their services to help the mining industry and other agencies to help facilitate better monitoring and clean-up operations. They are here to support and assist, says one representative from the International Joint Commission.
Rob Sanderson says that it’s not going to be the large disasters, he references the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster, but the smaller mines that leak toxic runoff into small tributary rivers.
Representatives from the Alaska mining industry are saying that they are pleased with the progress that’s been made and say that they are looking forward to working with the various agencies. They point out the vast amounts of money needed to get mines up and running, as well as the difficulty in cleaning up mines from previous generations before modern mining technology.
The International Joint Commission has committed to having a meeting similar to this in British Columbia in the coming months.
Representatives from the various organizations and agencies are putting forward comments about intentions to work co-operatively, about a mutual desire to work to resolve the various issues that have been discussed at this meeting.
Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang is giving comments on his organization’s monitoring of salmon stocks.
The discussion has turned to new projects and the review process for those. It’s said that there are also several plans for de-commissioning mines, including the Tulsequah Chief mine, the pollution from which has come up several times. Sen. Sullivan called it “ridiculous” that the mine had not yet been cleaned.
Rob Sanderson has interjected several times to ask why tribal organizations haven’t been invited to several meetings, or even been informed of such operations.
An Environmental Protection Agency official, Patty McGrath, is elaborating on what they require from mining projects, even those that operate in Canada. She says that they are usually invited by the Canadian government during the review process for mining applications. “Do they listen to you?” Sen. Sullivan asks. “I would say sometimes,” she replies.
A representative from the United States Geological Survey, Dr. Chris Zimmerman, is giving a summary of what his organization does in regards to transboundary mining, working with local organizations as well as federal agencies for comprehensive monitoring.
Sen. Sullivan says to the Canadian commissioner of the International Joint Commission, Pierre Beland, that Alaska is pro-mining, pro-resource development, so while there has been criticism of the Canadian government he doesn’t want to give the impression that there is some kind of “anti-mining crusade” from Alaskans. He says he wants more transparency and co-operation on water quality as well as other issues.
Sen. Murkowski is telling the group how she and Sen. Sullivan have worked with fellow congresspeople as well as the State Department to keep the issue front on mind with the Canadian delegation whenever there are meetings.
She says that inter-agency, state, and national cooperation has been wonderful.
Sanderson replies that the main thing the tribes are asking for is “to be at the table.”
Jill Weitz, Salmon Beyond Borders campaign is giving a presentation on local watersheds using maps. The three watersheds, Taku, Stikine, and Unuk, are larger than the state of Maine, and contribute to a billion dollar fishing and tourism industry.
She is giving a history of transboundary mining since 1957 when the Tulsequah Chief mine was known to be leaking acidic runoff into rivers. Canada de-regulated some of its mining industry in the 1990s which led to a proliferation of mining and energy projects.
Rob Sanderson, Tlingit-Haida Central Council, is addressing the group, saying that before transboundary mining became a well-known issue the Central Council was informed of it by someone from National Geographic. The Central Council in Ketchikan have kept the issue “on the front burner.”
Right now “the Unuk River is dying.” in his opinion. He says that fish are coming back smaller and that Canada has a really bad track record when it comes to transboundary mining. The size of the fish are affecting the local herring population. “There’s just no fish,” he says, there were more than 70,000 native people in Southeast Alaska over a hundred years ago, “we never took more than we needed,” he said of Alaska Native fishermen.
“We really need to exercise our government to government interactions,” he says as a closing.
Representatives are going around the table and introducing themselves. Forest service, Alaska Mining Association, and Alaska Native representatives are present as well as other federal and international organizations.
A roundtable conference with representatives from across Alaska, Canada, and the United States are gathered in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offices at the Federal Building in downtown Juneau.
Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowsi and Dan Sullivan are present as well as state Senator Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, and Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, and several representatives of local Juneau organizations.
The roundtable is gathered to discuss the issue of transboundary mining, mining operations that cross international and state boundaries. Of concern to Alaska are mines in British Columbia whose operations release toxic runoff into rivers that flow through Alaska and into the ocean. The environmental impact of these operations are of great concern and are being weighed against the economic benefits of such activities.