Transboundary rivers campaign builds alliances in Seattle and B.C.

TU’s Transboundary Rivers campaign recently wrapped up a whirlwind trip to Seattle, Vancouver, and Williams Lake, British Columbia (B.C.) that included meetings with First Nations, non-governmental organizations working on mining reform, and with B.C. government officials. Williams Lake is the community closest to the Mount Polley mine disaster of last summer, one of Canada’s worst environmental disasters.

The goal of the trip was to raise awareness about threats to Southeast Alaska’s multi-billion dollar fishing and tourism industries from B.C.’s large-scale mine development in the transboundary region. Southeast Alaska is home to the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, the crown jewel of the country's national forest system. At least six large mines have either recently opened (as in the case of Red Chris) or are in various stages of permitting, planning or financing upriver from the Tongass. The projects would all produce acid-mine drainage, posing serious risks of contaminating Southeast Alaska’s salmon-rich waters downstream.

TU got involved in the fight to protect transboundary waters (namely the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers and their habitats) in 2014 when it helped launch a campaign called Salmon Beyond Borders (SBB). At the time, the massive KSM mine, 19 miles from the Alaska border, was entering the permitting stage. Since then it has received all its permits and is seeking a financial backer to proceed.

SBB seeks to gain enforceable protections for Southeast Alaska’s fisheries, indigenous communities, tourism, wildlife and unique way of life from potential pollution from upstream B.C. mines. SBB’s members include commercial and sport fishermen, tribal citizens, tourism operators and concerned citizens on both sides of the border.

In the recent trip to Seattle and B.C., representatives of SBB and the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group (a consortium of 13 federally recognized Alaska tribes) visited newsrooms and consulates and met with NGOs and First Nations. Everyone was very interested in hearing Alaska’s concerns and the trip garnered significant media coverage. Among the pieces published and broadcast was a comprehensive story on Seattle’s KING5 television station, an editorial and a news piece in the Vancouver Sun, an advance story about the trip by Canadian Press that ran in several newspapers across Canada, a television piece that aired on CBC’s The National program, and a news story in the Williams Lake Tribune.

Alaska’s lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, accompanied SBB and the tribal working group members to Williams Lake to see first-hand the devastation of the Mount Polley tailings dam breach. He also met with high-ranking B.C. officials, including Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett and Minister of the Environment Mary Polak.

(left to right: Barbara Blake, Special Assistant to Alaska Lieutenant Gov. Byron Mallott, Heather Hardcastle of Trout Unlimited and Salmon Beyond Borders, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, and Jacinda Mack, Xat'sull Nation, B.C. Photo by Steve Goodcliffe.)

Since the trip concluded, Mallott has publicly acknowledged that Alaska’s concerns about transboundary mining have not been adequately addressed.

“That will change,” he told CoastAlaska public radio.

“It’s important for us not just to understand how the government does its business over there, but the involvement and interests and the concerns of stakeholders in British Columbia and the mining industry itself,” Mallott was quoted as saying.

TU is encouraged that the lieutenant governor, and his boss, Gov. Bill Walker, are taking an interest in the transboundary mine situation, unlike the previous administration. Walker empowered Mallott to form a commission-level working group to tackle the issue. It’s held several meetings in recent weeks and is said to be formulating a new state position on the issue that will be announced by the end of the month or early June.

Meanwhile, the state’s congressional delegation, numerous municipalities and tribes, as well as commercial and sport fishing organizations continue to call on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to refer the transboundary mine issue to the International Joint Commission (IJC.) The IJC is a bilateral organization, with U.S. and Canadian commissioners, that works to resolve transboundary water disputes. It’s empowered by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty to which the U.S. and Canada are signatories. Among its various provisions is Article 4 which prohibits either country from polluting each other’s waters.

  “The IJC is the appropriate forum to address Alaska’s concerns,” said Heather Hardcastle, campaign lead for Salmon Beyond Borders, and a commercial fisherman in Juneau.

More information about TU's Transboundary Rivers campaign and a link to take action are here.


Add Content