Empire Editorial: On the topic of transboundary mines, a response to Mr. Bill Bennett Posted (Juneau Empire – March 22, 2015)

http://juneauempire.com/

 The Tulsequah Chief Mine, located south of Juneau on the Taku River just across the Canadian border, has leached acid runoff into the Taku River since its closure in the 1950s.

Alaskans — Native tribes, commercial fishermen, local governments and ordinary residents — feel it is not at all respectful to leave a mine in ruin, leaching acid runoff. Nor do we feel this is in any way an example of “environmental protection.”

As B.C. forges ahead with 30 new mines to add to the existing 123 along the transboundary region, we’d like to see a firmer grip on reality and less public relations spin from our Canadian neighbors. We need actual compromise and solutions. (Juneau Empire Editorial-March 22, 2015)

It’s not often the Juneau Empire offers a rebuttal to an submitted column. Waging a back-and-forth war of words isn’t fair for the other party. We buy ink by the barrel and have dedicated staff to get the word out online as well.

However, we must respond to the Feb. 24 My Turn penned by Bill Bennett, the Minister of Mines for British Columbia.

Let us start off by addressing the first portion of Mr. Bennet’s piece when he states it was “unfortunate your editorial has seized upon the Mount Polley mine tailings storage facility failure to undermine the long tradition of respectful relations and co-operation between British Columbia and Alaska on mining development and environmental protection.”

Perhaps Mr. Bennett has forgotten about the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Southeast Alaska has not forgotten.

The Tulsequah Chief Mine, located south of Juneau on the Taku River just across the Canadian border, has leached acid runoff into the Taku River since its closure in the 1950s. The Taku boasts notable salmon runs, the same runs which in turn give jobs to many commercial fishermen. There were efforts to revitalize the mine, but those failed for financial reasons and to this day acid continues to taint the Taku.

Alaskans — Native tribes, commercial fishermen, local governments and ordinary residents — feel it is not at all respectful to leave a mine in ruin, leaching acid runoff. Nor do we feel this is in any way an example of “environmental protection.” Years ago, Alaska’s leaders tried to have a dialogue on cleaning up the mine. Former Gov. Sarah Palin and others were largely ignored in their efforts, as this newspaper and others reported at the time.

As B.C. forges ahead with 30 new mines to add to the existing 123 along the transboundary region, we’d like to see a firmer grip on reality and less public relations spin from our Canadian neighbors. We need actual compromise and solutions.

Imagine, if you will, a scenario in which the rivers we share flow in the opposite direction, that all our mining efforts — some old and some new — were leaking, seeping toxins into your waterways, effectively threatening the success of the Canadian salmon industry. Would you still feel there was a “long tradition” of respect and cooperation across our boundary? Would you feel it acceptable if we were to deny your requests for independent reviews, as the B.C. government did when Alaskans asked for a review of the planned Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine?

In the next section of your piece you state the Empire suggested “in B.C. we are somehow less responsible in developing our mining industry than you are in Alaska, or that we’re charging forward without due care for environmental protection.”

Mr. Bennett, there are a number of mines in B.C. that have not done good things for the surrounding environment. The concern from Alaskans stems simply from the desire to not have history repeat itself.

Take the Mount Washington Mine. This 32-acre mine was operational in the 1960s, but beginning in 1966, after the mine’s closure, the population of coho salmon that swam in the adjacent Tsolum River began to suffer. What was once a run of 15,000 fish dwindled to a low of 14 in 1987. According to the British Columbia government watershed assessment in 1995, “the fisheries resource is believed to have declined (by 90 percent) predominantly because of acid mine drainage from Mount Washington.” At one point, the fishery in the Tsolum generated as much as $2 million per year for local communities. Today, the fishery isn’t worth the cost of bait.

Another example is the Britannia Copper Mine near Squamish, 37 miles north of Vancouver. It ceased operations in 1974. Today, millions of gallons of contaminated water flow from the mine each day via a large underwater outflow pipe into Britannia Creek, which eventually makes its way to the ocean. Robert McCandless, a mining specialist with Environment Canada, has said “there are huge areas devoid of life” and the mine is largely responsible for the disappearance of fish and shellfish from the area. By May 1997, it was reported that the only sign of life in Britannia Creek was some algae on rocks. According to estimates from B.C. reports, the cleanup could cost “several tens of millions.”

For the rest of this editorial, click here: http://juneauempire.com/opinion/2015-03-22/empire-editorial-topic-transboundary-mines-response-mr-bill-bennett

Comments are closed.