Opinion: Alaska needs iron-glad guarantees on B.C. mines – by Dale Kelley and Cynthia Wallesz (Vancouver Sun – September 18, 2015)

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Dale Kelley is executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. Cynthia Wallesz is executive director of United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters.

We were among a group of fishing, environmental and tribal representatives who met recently with Alaska Lt.-Gov. Byron Mallott, B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett and other officials on transboundary mining issues. Bennett’s visit was largely the result of Alaskans’ resistance to B.C.’s aggressive mining agenda and the risks it poses to our region.

Our organizations represent thousands of Southeast Alaska fishing families and businesses who fear development near the border could threaten water quality, habitat and the fish we rely upon. Last year’s tailings breach at the Mount Polley mine and plans to open several large acidic mines near our rivers heighten those concerns.

While the meeting was a good first step to starting a discussion with Canada, it did not alleviate our concerns.

Bennett told us the status quo cannot continue, but that he understands no amount of money or jobs is worth sacrificing our resource values. We absolutely agree.

The minister promised more meetings and information about B.C.’s mine review process; he also mentioned his desire to build trust. To start gaining our trust, Bennett can work with Alaskans and the U.S. federal government to secure a binding, enforceable agreement between the U.S. and Canada that protects shared watersheds and secures our long-term financial interests in the event of mishaps. And, he can clean up Tulsequah Chief mine.

Tulsequah Chief Mine has leached toxic mine waste into the Taku River watershed for decades yet B.C. has failed to do anything beyond issuing citations. Bennett expressed surprise to see the mine just 33 km from our capital and said, “B.C. is going to have to find a way to rectify it sooner rather than later.”

Solving that problem very soon would certainly show commitment by the minister and help build trust.

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