transboundary mining

In Photos: The Canadian Mining Boom You’ve Never Seen Before

Red Chris mine

If you’re in Vancouver this is way out in the middle of nowhere, but way out in the middle of nowhere is our backyard.”

Those are the words of Frederick Otilius Olsen Jr., the tribal president of a traditional Haida village on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

When I met him, he had travelled to Ketchikan, Alaska, to meet with officials about the risk posed by the mining boom across the border in British Columbia.

He stood on the boardwalk overlooking Ketchikan’s fishing fleet and waved his hands animatedly while he told me about how his culture — and southern Alaska’s economy — depends on salmon.

Canada Has Second-Worst Mining Record in World: UN

Mount Polley mine spill

Canada has more mine tailings spills than most other countries in the world, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which urges governments and the mining industry to improve safety, accountability and oversight.

During the last decade there have been seven known mine tailings spills in Canada, only one less than reported in China, which tops the list, says the report.

The UNEP assessment “Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident” looks at 40 tailings accidents, including the 2014 Mount Polley disaster that saw 24 million cubic metres of sludge and mine waste flooding into nearby waterways.

Alaskans Push U.S. Government to Investigate B.C.’s Border Mines

Red Chris Mine by Garth Lenz|DeSmog Canada

Fish and wildlife in Alaska’s major watersheds are threatened by six British Columbia mines close to the Alaska border, according to a new petition that asks U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to investigate the threat of acid-mine drainage, heavy metals pollution and the possibility of catastrophic dam failure originating in the Canadian province.

The formal petition, organized by a coalition of Alaskan tribal governments and conservation groups, calls for the International Joint Commission to investigate threats from B.C. mines that will continue to hang over the watersheds for centuries after their closure.

It’s a very urgent issue and it’s important to a lot of people and their families,” Kenta Tsuda of Earthjustice, a signatory of the petition, told DeSmog Canada. “Their communities are at risk.”

Alaskan Hopes Pinned on New B.C. Government as Sale Looms for Polluting Mine

 Taku River Salmon Beyond Borders Chris Miller

Generations of John Morris Sr.’s family have fished the Taku River in Southeast Alaska and for decades they have watched acid mine drainage from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine in B.C. flow into a tributary of the Taku.

Now, with a new NDP government, running on support from the Green Party and a shared promise of reconciliation with First Nations and a commitment to the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Morris is hoping there will finally be some action on the Tulsequah Chief clean-up.

Indigenous and conservation groups in Alaska, who are ready to put pressure on B.C.’s new government, are pointing to a previous statement in the Legislature by Green Leader Andrew Weaver who said the Tulsequah Chief gives B.C. “an environmental black eye.”

We have worked on this for so many years now, one day it’s going to fall on the right ears,” said Morris, spokesman for the Douglas Indian Association.

Comparing Mine Management in B.C. and Alaska is Embarrassing (and Explains Why Alaskans Are So Mad)

Tulsequah Chief Mine. CSMPhoto

Alaskans tired of living under the threat of B.C.’s poorly regulated mines are taking the matter to the state’s House Fisheries Committee in an effort to escalate an international response to ongoing issues such as the slow leakage of acidic waste from the deserted Tulsequah Chief Mine in northwest B.C. into the watershed of one of the richest salmon runs in the B.C./Alaska transboundary region.

On Thursday the committee will assess a resolution sponsored by several House Representatives “urging the United States government to continue to work with the government of Canada to investigate the long-term, region-wide downstream effects of proposed and existing industrial development and to develop measures to ensure that state resources are not harmed by upstream development in B.C.”

Although Tulsequah is a catalyst, concerns go deeper as B.C. is handing out permits for a clutch of proposed new mines close to the Alaskan border, including the KSM mine, the largest open-pit gold and copper mine in North America.

Southeast Alaskans Ask Canada to Strengthen Its Environmental Laws

British Columbia’s environmental review process simply isn’t strong enough to protect Alaskan communities and rivers from the province’s mining boom, Jill Weitz, American campaigner with Salmon Beyond Borders, recently told a panel reviewing Canada’s environmental assessment process.

Weitz, who works to protect Alaska’s wild salmon runs, traveled to Prince Rupert to tell a trio of experts appointed by the federal government how a more robust federal environmental assessment process could help address transboundary concerns arising in the wake of B.C.’s major push for new mines.

The federally appointed panel is currently reviewing the environmental assessment process managed by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency which is responsible for reviewing major development projects including pipelines, oil and gas development and mines. Changes made under the previous federal government excluded major mines in British Columbia from the federal environmental assessment process — a legislative change Weitz and others say left Alaska in an uncomfortable position.

The transboundary region traversing the border of northwest B.C. and southeast Alaska is home to three major salmon rivers, the Taku, Stikine and Unuk. The rivers flow into Alaska from an area in B.C. that is home to 10 new mines either proposed or already under construction.

New B.C.-Alaska Deal Not Enough to Protect Transboundary Rivers from B.C.’s Mines, U.S. Fisheries Panel Hears

Alaska’s fishing industry and lifestyle are under threat from mines on the B.C. side of the border and a non-binding cooperation agreement between B.C. and Alaska, signed last week, does not provide sufficient protection, the Alaska State House Fisheries Committee was told this week.

The committee held a public hearing because of persistent concerns from fishermen, business owners, municipal and Tribal leaders about the proliferation of B.C. mines near the headwaters of salmon-bearing rivers such as the Taku, Unuk and Stikine, which start in B.C. and flow through Southeast Alaska to the ocean.

About 10 mines are in the planning, exploration, construction or production stages in the area close to the border.

Owner of Acid-leaking Tulsequah Chief Mine Goes into Receivership

Cleanup of the troubled Tulsequah Chief mine in northwest B.C., which has leaked acidic water into nearby streams and rivers for more than six decades, is again in limbo following an announcement by the owner, Toronto-based Chieftain Metals Inc., that the company is in receivership.

Chieftain, in a statement, said the accounting firm Grant Thornton “was appointed through court order as the receiver of all the assets, undertakings and properties of Chieftain.” The majority of company directors have resigned.

The court order came after a demand by West Face Capitol for repayment of a $26-million loan.

Chieftain’s properties include 65 mineral claims, but the company’s principal focus was development of the Tulsequah Chief, which it bought in 2010. At that time, Chieftain accepted responsibility for the long overdue environmental cleanup, but an interim water treatment plant operated for only six months and was closed in 2012 because of costs and technical issues.

Alaskans Find Flaw in B.C. Study Showing Acid Drainage from Abandoned Mine Does Not Affect Fish

Acid mine drainage from the Tulsequah Chief mine in northwest B.C. has worried and infuriated Southeast Alaskans for almost six decades and concerns have again peaked with a new analysis that claims a study of runoff — that found the drainage would not affect fish — was flawed.

The mine, situated beside the Tulsequah River, the largest tributary to the Taku, one of Alaska’s premium salmon rivers, was closed by Cominco in 1957 without reclamation or clean-up of acid mine drainage.

The mine was bought by Redfern Corp. but numerous government warnings and reclamation orders were ignored and Redfern filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The mine was then bought in 2010 by Toronto-based Chieftain Metals Inc., which accepted environmental liabilities as part of the purchase price.

Hopes that the drainage problems would be addressed were short-lived and an interim water treatment plant that operated for only six months was closed in June 2012 because of costs and technical issues.

Cost of Abandoned, Contaminated Mine Sites in B.C. $508 Million, Up 83 Per Cent Since 2014

Costs associated with the closure and reclamation of 84 abandoned industrial sites, mostly from mining, in B.C. have increased to $508 million, according to new information released from the Crown Contaminated Sites Program.

Responsibility for the sites has fallen to the province because the owners or operators of the projects “no longer exist,” according to a provincial press release

The estimated cleanup costs have grown by $231 million since 2014, representing an increase of 83.4 per cent, watchdog group MiningWatch notes

According to the province, a number of the mines, like the Britannia Mine near Squamish, or the Bralorne-Takla Mine in northern B.C., that now present a risk to human and enviornmental health, operated before 1969 when modern environmental legislation was created.

Although the province is quick to highlight work done over the past two years to clean up contaminated sites, Ugo Lapointe from MiningWatch says the significant growth in overall liability signals an urgent need for reform in the mining sector.

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