Alaskans outraged by opening of Red Chris mine

(Photo courtesy of Wade Davis.)

Alaska fishermen, tribal leaders and tourism owners say the opening of Red Chris mine in the Stikine River watershed last week is a dangerous development for Southeast Alaska’s rich salmon fisheries and tourism-oriented economy.

The Stikine River, which begins in British Columbia (B.C.) and drains into the ocean near Wrangell, Alaska, is one of the Alaska’s most prolific salmon producers. Red Chris –owned by the same company responsible for the Mount Polley mine disaster --is one of six large-scale mines that British Columbia is aggressively developing in the transboundary region straddling B.C. and Alaska.

Alaskans received no advance notice that the opening of Red Chris was imminent, a move that underscores Trout Unlimited Alaska’s position that the B.C. government cannot be trusted to protect Alaska’s interests. Upstream from Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, Red Chris mine has the potential to unleash acid mine drainage, heavy metals and other pollutants into Southeast Alaska’s pristine waters, threatening multi-billion dollar seafood and tourism industries and indigenous cultures of the region.

The opening of Red Chris follows a recent report on the Mount Polley mine disaster last August. An independent review panel, appointed by the B.C. government, found that weaknesses in the foundation of Mount Polley’s dam were the main cause of the catastrophe and it recommended stricter safety standards for B.C. mines. The panel described Mount Polley as a “loaded gun” waiting to go off. The Mount Polley disaster caused an estimated 6.6 billion gallons of toxic mine waste and wastewater to flow into the Fraser River watershed. The Fraser is one of Canada’s most important salmon rivers.

“We cannot stand by and let a similar accident occur in waters draining into Southeast Alaska,” said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited in Alaska.

Alaskans, including the state’s congressional delegation, have been calling for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to activate the International Joint Commission (IJC) to investigate the multitude of mine developments in the transboundary region and how they could impact Alaska’s downstream waters. News that Red Chris – owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that owns Mount Polley – should be a loud wake-up call for Sec. Kerry that the time to get the IJC involved is now.

“It’s clear that B.C. is pursuing large-scale mining at all costs, regardless of the enormous risks to Alaska’s downstream communities, fisheries and tourism. The fact that the B.C. government allowed Red Chris to begin operating before the ink was even dry on the Mount Polley report, and without even the courtesy of letting Alaskans know, is appalling. The public needs to send a message loud and clear that Alaskans will not stand by and allow its waters to be threatened in such a disrespectful manner,” said Heather Hardcastle, TU’s lead on the transboundary mine issue.

Join our efforts to protect Southeast Alaska’s fisheries, clean water, and jobs. A map of the B.C. mines and their relation to Alaska is available here.


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