In Polley's wake, downstream Alaska fears B.C. mining boom

by Christopher Pollon

Roaring at seven knots up the U.S. side of the Stikine River, a grizzly bear of a man named Mark Galla steers our jet boat through a gauntlet of protruding logs, attempting to point out the exact point at which Alaska becomes British Columbia. Against the vastness of the surrounding wilderness, the border is invisible, almost arbitrary. Until recently, most Alaskans couldn't see it either.

That all changed in August when YouTube video highlights of the Mount Polley mine disaster circulated through panhandle towns like Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell. Media from across the state drew comparisons between Mount Polley and the tailings dams that could one day accompany the half-dozen open pit mines proposed in the wild river watersheds that Alaska and B.C. share -- the Unuk, Taku and, more than anywhere else, the Stikine.

The first of these proposed mines will be Red Chris, a copper and gold mine built by Mount Polley-owner Imperial Metals in the B.C. headwaters of the Stikine, scheduled to open later this year. Another is the $5.3 billion Kerr-Suphurets-Mitchell (KSM) project, which could generate two billion tons of waste rock, requiring tailings storage in the Nass River drainage and waste rock dumps in the Unuk watershed.

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