B.C. mining boom, recent tailings breach prompt environmental fears in Alaska – by James Keller (CTV News/Canadian Press – August 21, 2014)


VANCOUVER — Heather Hardcastle has spent her life fishing for salmon at the mouth of the Taku River, which starts in a remote corner of northwestern British Columbia before dumping into the ocean near her home in Juneau, Alaska.

She was six years old when her parents bought a fishing boat. More than a decade ago, she became co-owner of Taku River Reds, a small commercial fishing outfit that ships salmon throughout the United States.

In recent years, however, Hardcastle’s attention has been focused farther upstream in B.C., where a cluster of proposed mining projects has fishermen, environmentalists, aboriginals and a handful of politicians in Alaska concerned about the potential impact on the environment in their state.

And those concerns have only been amplified by a recent mine tailings spill in central B.C., where the full impact from the disaster on aquatic life remains unclear.

“It’s one thing on paper to say that you have standards that are high, but it doesn’t matter when you have a disaster like this,” said Hardcastle, whose concerns prompted her to become involved with the environmental group Trout Unlimited.

“There’s a real lack of confidence and trust right now.”

A tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine failed more than two weeks ago, releasing millions of cubic metres of water and silt. Tests have so far shown drinking water in the area is within government guidelines, but the sediment may be harmful to fish.

The failure has put increased scrutiny on the mining industry and the B.C. government’s ability to regulate it, and mine opponents in Alaska have seized on the incident.

In particular, they point to projects such as the Red Chris gold and copper mine, which, like Mount Polley, is owned by Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III); the proposed KSM gold and copper mine, owned by Seabridge Gold Inc. (TSX:SEA); and several others in the early stages of development and approval.

Red Chris, which is nearing completion, is located near the Stakine River, which flows into Alaska.

The KSM project, which has been approved by B.C. and is awaiting federal approval, would be located near the Unuk River system, which also flows into Alaska, though its tailings facility would be located in the Naas River watershed, which empties into the Pacific in B.C.

Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited Alaska’s program, said the Mount Polley spill raises concerns about whether the provincial and federal approval and monitoring regimes are enough to protect Alaskan waters.

“The disaster in Mount Polley really catalyzed the concern and there’s a much more significant sense of urgency for all of this,” he said.

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