Following B.C. disaster, Alaskans seek tougher review of Canadian mines – by Pat Forgey (Alaska Dispatch News – August 13, 2014)

JUNEAU — Following a massive mine waste spill in Canada, Alaska state and Canadian federal officials are being asked to do more to protect parts of Alaska downstream of several Canadian mines.

“That water belongs to us, too,” said Rob Sanderson, a Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska vice-president and co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Workshop.

He’s most concerned about the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine in Canada east of Ketchikan, which he said is seven times the size of the Mount Polley Mine in interior British Columbia. The breach of the latter mine’s tailings dam contaminated the watershed of Canada’s important Fraser River.

“If that ain’t an eye opener down at Mount Polley, I don’t know what is,” Sanderson said of the KSM mine risks. “Could you imagine if they had a disaster like that at KSM if it was in full production, or even half production, it would be a disaster beyond words,” he said.

But state officials are defending provincial and federal regulators in Canada, and saying their environmental protection measures are as strong as those in Alaska or the United States.

“I believe that the environmental assessment process in Canada are thorough and rigorous,” said Kyle Moselle, a large project permit coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

He’s now reviewing the KSM proposal, and coordinating the state’s response to the project. He said the state will submit its comments to the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency by the Aug. 20 deadline. The mine has already received provincial approval.

Tribal, environmental and fishing groups have called on Canada to do a more thorough “panel” review of the KSM Mine.

Moselle said the decision about whether Alaska will join that call will be made by Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig.

“The DNR, DEC and Fish and Game commissioners have all received requests from Alaskans to either support or request a panel review. The agencies are considering that, discussing that, but right now I don’t have the state’s position on that,” Moselle said.

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has joined Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in calling for more thorough environmental reviews on the KSM and other Canadian mines, including a panel review for the KSM mine.

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