The Red Chris Mine in the transboundary Stikine-Iskut River watershed. Mines like this one are a source of consternation for conservationists, who say mining activity north of the border has negative repercussions for Alaskans. (Tyler Wilkinson-Ray | Courtesy of Salmon Beyond Borders)

The Red Chris Mine in the transboundary Stikine-Iskut River watershed. Mines like this one are a source of consternation for conservationists, who say mining activity north of the border has negative repercussions for Alaskans. (Tyler Wilkinson-Ray | Courtesy of Salmon Beyond Borders)

Tribes, conservationists, urge action on transboundary mining

Trying to get attention during a pandemic

Even as leaders are focused on combating the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, local conservation and tribal groups are calling on federal lawmakers to address what they see as a threat to Southeast Alaska — transboundary mining.

“I always say, when one of those tailings (ponds) goes it’s going to ruin our way of life in Southeast Alaska,” said Tis Peterman, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission.

Peterman is referring to large pits where mining companies store wastewater that comes from the mining process. What’s in the water depends on what’s being mined, but tailings are typically toxic. But the dams that hold back that water have failed before, most famously in 2014 when the Mount Polly Mine in British Columbia spilled millions of gallons of industrial waste into nearby waterways.

Transboundary mining refers to when run-off from a mine in one country, in this case Canada, pollutes waters which eventually flow into another, the United States.

Peterman and others said the same thing that happened at Mount Polly could happen to mines whose failure would affect Southeast Alaska.

“It’s going to ruin the ocean, salmon, subsistence, hunting and gathering, that will all be affected,” Peterman said. “Not just subsistence fishing, commercial fishing.”

The problem, according to Peterman and others urging action, is lax environmental regulation by the Canadian government, in particular the provincial government of British Columbia.

“B.C. does not adequately assess risk when permitting,” said Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders.

Weitz recently signed on to a letter published in the journal Science along with 21 other science and policy experts from the U.S. and Canada urging the federal governments of both countries to work towards resolving some of the issues surrounding transboundary mining.

“We urge our governments to honor their mutual obligation to protect our shared boundary waters,” the letter says.

The letter accuses the B.C. government of allowing mining companies to operate with little oversight and cites a permit given to Teck Resources Limited, a Canadian mining company.

“Teck’s Elk Valley permit allows up to 65 times above scientifically established protective threshold for fish,” the letter states.

Teck is committed to implementing a water quality plan in cooperation with the Canadian government and First Nations, Chris Stannell, senior communications specialist for Teck said in an email.

“We have invested $437 million to implement the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan to date, with a further $640-690 million of investment estimated over the next five years to implement water treatment, monitoring and research,” Stannell said.

The Canadian Consul’s office did not immediately respond to request for contact.

Following publication of the letter, Weitz, Peterman and Raymond Paddock, Raymond Paddock, environmental coordinator, Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska released a statement of support, urging federal lawmakers to take action.

Alaska’s congressional delegation has pursued the issue for years, but Weitz and others feel the Canadian government is still allowing pollution to continue.

“The Canadian government has not come to the table in the same way the US has,” Weitz said.

Peterman said she hopes having a letter in Science will draw attention back to the issue even during a global pandemic.

“The mines are still going on now,” Peterman said. “We don’t want people to forget they’re still a threat to our way of life.”

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, Feb. 26, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Former state labor commissioner Ed Flanagan, State Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, and the Rev. Michael Burke of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage wheel boxes of signed petitions into a state Division of Elections office on Jan. 9. The petitions were for a ballot initiative to increase the state’s minimum wage, mandate paid sick leave and ensure that workers are not required to hear employers’ political or religious messages. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Minimum wage increase, ranked choice repeal have enough signatures to be on ballot

A pair of ballot measures have enough public support to appear on… Continue reading

State senators meet with members of the media at the Alaska State Capitol to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Nanibaa’ Frommherz, a student at Thunder Mountain High School, testifies about a proposal to help the Juneau School District with its financial crisis during a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night at City Hall. The meeting was moved from the Assembly Chambers to a conference room toward the end due to technical errors that disrupted the live online feed.
Little public reaction to city’s bailout of school district this year, but big questions beyond loom

Only two people testify Monday about proposed $4.1M loan and taking over $3.9 in “shared costs.”

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mauka Grunenberg looks at live oysters for sale on Aug. 29, 2022, at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage. The oysters came from a farm in Juneau. Oysters, blue mussels and sugar, bull and ribbon kelp are the main products of an Alaska mariculture industry that has expanded greatly in recent years. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s mariculture industry expands, with big production increases in recent years, report says

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed… Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (center) walks with Alaska Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, and Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, into the Alaska House of Representatives chambers ahead of her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

Congresswoman says wins for Alaska’s fisheries and state’s economy occurring through collaboration.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of Senate concurrence on a version of an education bill passed by the Alaska House last week during a Senate floor discussion on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

Dunleavy schedules press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation.

Most Read