The customs, traditions and way of life of Southeast Alaska’s first people exist in large part because of our waters. Large-scale mines upstream from our communities pose a threat that would change how we define ourselves and how we live our lives. The Mount Polley mine tailings dam breach last August in central British Columbia (B.C.) is a prime example of how our lives could be changed forever by mining disasters.
Last Friday, Jan. 30, 2015, when an independent engineering report on the causes of the Mount Polley spill was released, our fears increased because of what the report revealed. At the same time, we felt the report gave us the evidence we needed to call for a moratorium on B.C.’s multiple large-scale mines in development along the B.C./Southeast Alaska border. The report highlights the numerous shortcomings in the design and maintenance of the Mount Polley tailings impoundment, and calls for future projects to put safety concerns ahead of economic evaluation.
Therefore, to discover that Imperial Metals—owner of the Mount Polley mine—quietly opened the much larger Red Chris mine in the Stikine River watershed three business days after the release of the Mount Polley report, is more than a shock to us. We take this action as a deep insult. The Red Chris mine is located in the headwaters of the Stikine River, a river of tremendous cultural importance that has been a source of food, water, transportation, and gathering for Native Alaskans for thousands of years. We stand to gain no benefit from a large-scale mine in this watershed, only costs. Yet, we’ve not been consulted whatsoever by Imperial Metals or by the B.C. government on this mine.
The authors of the Mount Polley report strongly recommended that no new watered tailings facilities like that at Mount Polley be utilized in B.C. in the future. They calculated that, if watered tailings facilities continue to be employed in B.C. mines, two tailings breaches can be expected every 10 years. Despite this, Imperial Metals has constructed and plans to use a tailings storage facility at Red Chris that is similar to the one that failed at Mount Polley. This is completely unacceptable. We believe that it is not only time to ban watered tailings dams, but to halt the opening and development of new mines in B.C., like Red Chris, until more is understood about safe mining practices and how to prevent incidents like the Mount Polley breach from ever happening again.
We again call on the State of Alaska, on our congressional delegation and on the U.S. Department of State for leadership on this issue. Through their aggressive mining agenda in watersheds like the Stikine that are shared by Alaska and B.C., Canada is at risk of violating the U.S.-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. This matter must be referred to the International Joint Commission for review and recommendations. The U.S. and Southeast Tribes are owed a seat at the table with Canada and First Nations when it comes to discussions about how and if our shared watersheds are developed.
Rob Sanderson, Jr., Co-Chair of United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group and 2nd Vice President of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska,firstname.lastname@example.org; (907) 821-8885
Carrie James, Co-Chair of United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group and Treasurer of Ketchikan Indian Community, email@example.com; (907) 821-8167
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