The following press release is courtesy of Salmon Beyond Borders:
JUNEAU—The day after the 5th anniversary of British Columbia’s Mount Polley mine waste dump disaster, Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan hosted four commissioners from the six-member United States-Canada International Joint Commission (IJC) for a roundtable discussion on the threats B.C.’s transboundary mining poses to communities and rivers along the B.C./Alaska border. The IJC is guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, and is tasked with investigating transboundary issues and recommending solutions for the U.S. and Canada. Alaskans have been calling for an IJC investigation of the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine in the Taku River watershed since 1998, and for a broader review of the cumulative impacts resulting from more than 12 large-scale open-pit mining projects B.C. is pursuing in the headwaters of the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers that flow downstream into Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage.
IJC U.S. Section Chair Jane Corwin, U.S. Commissioners Robert C. Sisson and Lance V. Yohe, and Canada Section Chair Pierre Béland visited Southeast Alaska August 3 – 5, 2019, spending time in both the Stikine and Taku river communities. In Juneau, the senators on August 5 hosted a roundtable discussion that featured, in addition to the IJC commissioners and the senators, representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Commissioners from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Game, and Environmental Conservation, the Office of the Governor, Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Council of Alaska Producers, United Fishermen of Alaska, the Alaska Miners Association, members of the Alaska legislature and Salmon Beyond Borders.
“We are grateful to Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan, as well as Congressman Young, for their strong leadership on this important international issue. We’re also very grateful to IJC Commissioners Corwin, Sisson, Yohe and Béland for making the long trek to Alaska to see the threatened Stikine and Taku rivers firsthand, and to hear the concerns of a diverse set of Alaskans,” said Salmon Beyond Borders Director Jill Weitz, who participated in the roundtable discussion. “This is an important step toward ensuring the Boundary Waters Treaty is enforced and that Alaskan businesses, rivers and ways of life are defended from B.C.’s large-scale open-pit mining just over the Alaska/B.C. border.”
By coincidence, part of the IJC commissioners’ visit overlapped with the fifth anniversary of the Mount Polley disaster, which released 6.6 billion gallons of contaminants into waters flowing to B.C.’s Fraser River. The anniversary serves to illustrate the serious shortcomings of B.C. mining safeguards and the way those shortcomings could affect and are affecting the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers, as well as the rivers shared with B.C. by Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The governments of B.C. and Canada missed their deadlines to lay charges against Mount Polley mine owner, Imperial Metals, and B.C. regulators now permit the mine company to pump wastewater directly into Quesnel Lake, the sockeye salmon breeding grounds where the spill occurred. In transboundary regions, pollution of the Alaska/B.C. Taku River and the Montana/Idaho/B.C. Kootenai River watershed is ongoing, as B.C.’s Auditor General pointed out in her 2016 report.
“The rivers Canada and the United States share flow over the border — and so do contamination and problems from B.C.’s large-scale open-pit mines,” Weitz said. “The State of Alaska can work with B.C., and that’s important, but it’s not enough; existing and threatened contamination of shared transboundary rivers is an international problem requiring an international solution, and we are gratified that with the help from Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, the International Joint Commission is finally hearing Alaskans’ and Americans’ concerns.”