tailings pond

New B.C. $5.4 Billion Gold and Copper Mine Will Improve Water Quality in River, Says Company

Water quality in a tributary of one of Southeast Alaska’s prime salmon rivers will improve once a new mine opens on the B.C. side of the border according to spokesmen for Seabridge Gold Inc, the Toronto-based company planning to open the Kerr-Sulpherets-Mitchell (KSM) mine.

The copper, gold and molybdenum mine, 65 kilometres northwest of Stewart and 30 kilometres from the Alaska border, received federal and provincial environmental assessment approvals last year and the company is now seeking a joint venture partner for the $5.4-billion project.

But the prospect of a massive mine close to a tributary that runs into the Unuk River has alarmed Alaskan fishing, First Nations and environmental groups who say the risk is unacceptable and are pushing for transboundary mining issues to be referred to the International Joint Commission.

The long term risks of KSM far outweigh any short-term improvements to water quality the mine may create,” Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders Alaska campaign director, said.

Trust, Social Licence and Spin: A Tale of Two Countries

When B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett visited Southeast Alaska this summer, his aim was to calm critics of the province’s aggressive push to build at least 10 mines in northwest British Columbia, close to the Alaska border.

I understand why people feel so strongly about protecting what they have,” Bennett said at a Juneau news conference. “There’s a way of life here that has tremendous value and the people here don’t want to lose it. I get that.”

What led to Minister Bennett taking such a conciliatory tone? An unprecedented outpouring of concern from a powerful alliance of Alaskan politicians, tribes, fishing organizations and environmental groups perturbed by the modern-day gold rush alongside vital transboundary salmon rivers such as the Unuk, Taku and Stikine.

Indeed, long-held perceptions of Canada as a country with strict environmental standards and B.C. as a province that values natural beauty have taken a near-fatal beating in Southeast Alaska, where many now regard Canadians as bad neighbours unilaterally making decisions that could threaten the region’s two major economic drivers — tourism and fishing.

Alaskans emphasize they are not against resource extraction, provided there are adequate environmental and financial safeguards, but believe Canada’s record — most recently illustrated by the Mount Polley mine tailings dam collapse — shows that B.C.’s regulations are not strong enough to protect downstream communities.

‘Industrialization of the Wilderness’: Wade Davis on the Northwest Transmission Line

An ugly thread of misspent taxpayer dollars, environmental destruction and conflict-of-interest — backed by a government beholden to the mining industry — runs along the recently completed Northwest Transmission Line, charges acclaimed explorer and scholar Wade Davis.

The $716-million transmission line, budgeted in 2010 at $404-million, snakes 344 kilometres into B.C.’s wilderness, from north of Terrace to Bob Quinn Lake, and, to the alarm of downstream Southeast Alaska residents, the line is opening the area to mining in the headwaters of vital salmon-bearing rivers.

Those concerns have grown exponentially since the Mount Polley tailings dam collapsed in August 2014, sending 24-million cubic metres of toxic debris flowing into Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, and groups in B.C. and Alaska are warning that a Mount Polley-type disaster in the area known as the Sacred Headwaters, where acidity is likely to be high, would wipe out the multi-billion dollar fishing and tourism industries on both sides of the border.

One Year In, Likely Residents Remain Frustrated with Superficial Cleanup of Mount Polley Mine Spill

Gary and Peggy Zorn lost their livelihood in the wake of the Mount Polley mining disaster one year ago today, the couple explained, after foreign tourists lost the desire to experience the region as a travel destination renowned for its wildlife.

Gary Zorn, adorned with the impressive title of “bear whisperer,” said their eco-tour grizzly-watching outfit lost hundreds of thousands of dollars the day the mine’s tailings pond breached sending as estimated 24 million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste down the Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake, a local source of drinking water.

The Zorns said in the year that has passed since the spill, the mine, owned by Imperial Metals, has only completed a superficial cleanup in the area, leaving a lingering stain on both the environment and the region’s reputation.

It’s pretty quiet here,” Gary Zorn said. “The businesses are suffering quite a bit here in Likely because of the damage the breach has done.”

It’s not just what the breach did environmentally to us; it’s what has happened with the bad publicity we got when this went around the world. That also hurt everybody here.”

Alaskans to Commemorate Anniversary of Mount Polley Mine Disaster as Similar Accidents Predicted to Increase

One year after 24 million cubic metres of mine sludge and water swept into rivers and lakes below Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine in B.C., Southeast Alaskans will gather to commemorate the tailings pond breach and bless the Stikine River.

Those at the Aug. 2 gathering in Wrangell, where the salmon-rich Stikine runs into the ocean, will also be looking for ways to ensure there is no Mount Polley-style disaster in the B.C. headwaters of the Iskut River, a major tributary of the Stikine, where Imperial Metals has opened the Red Chris mine.

The ceremony will be hosted by Wrangell Cooperative Association, and tribal administrator Aaron Angerman said he hopes other Southeast Alaskan communities will follow suit and hold their own ceremonies.

I am frightened to think that what happened at Mount Polley could happen here in our backyard now that the Red Chris mine is operational — that the fish we’ve relied on traditionally for thousands of years could be contaminated or disappear, that the local commercial fishing industry could be decimated and that we could see the local businesses that rely on the industry close doors,” he said.

B.C. Approves Partial Reopening of Mount Polley Mine Despite Major Unanswered Questions About Tailings Spill

Mount Polley Mine Site, Carol Linnitt

Nearly one year after the catastrophic collapse of the Mount Polley mine tailings pond, which sent an estimated 25 million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste and water into Quesnel Lake, the project is permitted to partially reopen.

The B.C. government approved a permit to temporarily restart the gold and copper mine at half capacity even though the company has no long-term plan to deal with an abundance of water on site. A backlog of water, which overburdened the tailings storage pit, contributed to the accident last August according to an engineering panel that investigated the incident.

Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the province will approve the short-term permit while the mine figures out how to deal with the excess water.

Our choice was: Do we wait for them for a year to do absolutely everything that shows they have a long-term plan, or let them operate for a few months and get people working again and allow the company to earn some revenue, given there’s no negative impact to the environment?” Bennett said.

Breach of Trust: Opposing Factions Divide Likely, B.C., Months After Mount Polley Mine Spill

“I’m surprised that nobody has been killed here since the spill.”

That’s what one resident of Likely, B.C., recently told me at her home near Quesnel Lake, the site of the Mount Polley mine disaster that sent 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into the lake last August.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity she said she was warned by another community member about discussing the Mount Polley mine spill with journalists.

Be careful, they said to me. Be careful.”

She said another woman, who lives up the road, received three separate threatening phone calls after speaking with a television crew in the wake of the spill.

One person told her she should mind her own goddam business.”

Marilyn Baptiste Wins Prestigious Goldman Prize, Elevates Indigenous Struggle Against Mines

Marilyn Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation in British Columbia has won the prestigious $175,000 Goldman Prize  for her five-year effort to prevent construction of the Prosperity gold and copper mine 600 kilometres north of Vancouver.

I hope the Goldman award will bring world recognition to help us protect our land,” Baptiste told DeSmog Canada.  “We’d like to improve our lives, but our land and water comes first.”

That simple statement echoes the words of millions of indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world facing governments and industries intent on extracting minerals, oil, coal, gas and timber from their lands.

It’s the same story everywhere,” she said.

However, the beginnings of a new story may be in the works in Canada. Baptiste is a member of the Tsilhqot’in people who won a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2014 that granted aboriginal title to more than a 1,750-square-kilometre area in the Cariboo-Chilcotin area.

Alaskans Ring Alarm Bells Over Potential for More Mount Polley Disasters As B.C. Pushes Forward With New Mines

Worried Alaskans who fear lucrative fisheries and tourism industries are at risk from lax B.C. oversight of mine safety are meeting with state officials next week to ask the U.S. State Department to push for more input on mine development along the border of northwest B.C. and southeast Alaska.

We are calling for an equal seat at the table. We want equal representation on the part of Americans and Alaskans when it comes to how these watersheds are developed,” said Heather Hardcastle, a commercial salmon fisher based in Juneau.

We take all the risks and the costs and get none of the benefits.”

Hardcastle is a member of a coalition of Alaskan mayors, First Nations, businessmen and fishers who were horrified by the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse last August. Their concerns were exacerbated by last week’s provincial government report that found a weak foundation and design were responsible for the failure that saw an estimated 25 million cubic metres of waste water and toxic sludge flood from the copper and gold mine’s tailings pond into rivers and lakes.

DeSmogCAST 8: Oilsands Tailings Ponds, UK Drilling Imperative and Skeptics vs. Deniers


In today's January 15, 2015 episode DeSmogCAST host Farron Cousins joins DeSmoggers Carol Linnitt, Kyla Mandel, and Mike Gaworecki to discuss Canada's efforts to prevent a NAFTA-led investigation into the management of Alberta's oilsands tailings ponds.

We also discuss a clause in the UK's new Infrastructure Bill that mandates efforts to “maximize economic recovery of UK petroleum” and what that means for the nation's climate policy.

Lastly we discuss recent developments in the denier/skeptics debate and a recent open letter to media, calling on journalists to reserve the favourable term 'skeptic' for those engaged in truly scientific critical investigation.


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