By AMCC Board Member, Elsa Sebastian
Last month the AMCC board voted to pass a resolution requesting that the U.S. State Department act on transboundary mining concerns. In doing this, AMCC joins a coalition of fisheries organizations, tribal and First Nations members, and Alaskan municipalities calling for an independent review of the threats posed by more than 12 industrial scale mines in different stages of development in the transboundary region of British Columbia, just across the border from Alaska. At stake is the health of Southeast Alaska’s key salmon producing rivers: the Taku, the Stikine, and the Unuk.
Healthy salmon watersheds are the lifeblood of coastal Alaska: we depend upon them for economic prosperity and subsistence. Past threats to the viability of key salmon watersheds, such as the proposed Pebble Mine, awoke Alaskans to the realities of industrial mining. At least in the case of Pebble, Alaskans had a chance to be heard. Now, however, when mining projects threaten fisheries from across the border, Alaskans must fight to make their concerns known. One of the proposed mines greatly concerning Southeast Alaskans is the KSM mine, located just 20 miles from the border on the headwaters of the Unuk River. KSM plans to annually treat up to 20.8 billion gallons of water for acid mine drainage. This is almost twice the amount of contaminated water that would be produced by the proposed Pebble Mine development.
Southeast Alaskans are standing in solidarity to call for further review of BC mine development. For commercial fishermen like myself, rampant development mere miles across the border is enough to leave us questioning the long-term viability of our way of life. The development of large scale BC mining projects coincides with my investment in commercial fishing. After several years of making my living as a hand-troller in Southeast, I have decided to purchase a larger vessel and a power-troll permit.
I can’t think of a better way to make a living than chasing wild salmon in the heart of the beautiful wilderness where I grew up. That’s the quick and dirty explanation for why I have decided to invest in commercial fishing. But what really makes this job worthwhile goes beyond the obvious draw. Small-scale fishermen have something that’s becoming a rare attribute, and that’s accountability for their actions. Every fishing captain is accountable for his business, for delivering a quality product in a clean and legal way. This personal accountability means hard work, and it means work we can be proud of.
Accountability is not an attribute that the mining industry can claim. The Mount Polley disaster in the Cariboo region of British Columbia last August was sickening proof of this. Over the course of 4 days, the Mount Polley tailings pond released torrents of toxic slurry into surrounding streams and lakes; the entire tailings pond ran dry, with the mine reporting a release of 17 million cubic meters of untreated water and 8 million cubic meters of tailings waste. Despite repeated inspection reports questioning the integrity of the Mount Polley tailings pond, the mine took no corrective action. The resulting spill of toxic tailings waste devastated communities around the mine. Many First Nations communities did not fish this fall. Miners lost their jobs, and local hotels and service industries have been forced to close their doors. Investigations continue, but the corporation that owns Mount Polley, Imperial Metals, now has bigger fish to fry. This year Imperial Metals is set to open Red Chris Mine in the headwaters of the Stikine.
We cannot let Alaska’s silvers be destroyed by some Canadians’ reckless pursuit of gold. Alaskan fishermen have one shot at being heard: the State Department must call for a review through the Boundary Waters Treaty. For more information on this policy solution, and to learn how to take action visit www.salmonbeyondborders.org. You can view AMCC’s Resolution to the U.S. State Department here.