B.C. mines minister aims for right audience with next trip to Alaska – by Tamsyn Burgmann (Canadian Press/Vancouver Sun – February 22, 2015)

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VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s mines minister is making plans to visit Alaska’s indigenous fishing community after admitting his first trip to the state following the Mount Polley disaster addressed “probably the wrong audience.”

Bill Bennett spoke at a major mining industry conference last fall, but met with none of the tribal groups in the southeast region presumed most threatened by upstream mining across the border in B.C.

In retrospect, Bennett said people living off the sea in the transboundary region have every right to be concerned about mines in his province, but that he wants to stem the rising anxiety by sharing more information.

“They do not have the kind of information and understanding of how we do things here in British Columbia that they need to have, and that’s probably our fault,” he told The Canadian Press. “I think that we can relieve some of these fears.”

Bennett has asked a binational economic think-tank to consider organizing a symposium to bring both sides together in one of the southeastern Alaska towns at the heart of its multibillion-dollar fishing industry.

Bennett said he hopes the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region will convene a forum in a few months to share best practices and raise awareness about B.C.’s “rigorous” permitting process.

His idea comes after an independent report released in late January on the Mount Polley tailings dam spill that spewed 24 million cubic metres of silt and water into salmon-bearing rivers in the provincial Interior last August.

An engineering panel concluded a design flaw was to blame for the breach.

Bennett travelled to Anchorage last November on the invitation of the Alaska Miners Association. He said he incorrectly assumed that aboriginal groups would be there.

His “empathy” for the fishing community has prompted his pledge for a second trip, but the summit concept is already being panned.

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