A United States Geological Survey hydrologist collecting samples for water-quality monitoring on the Unuk River, Alaska. (Photo supplied by Jamie Pierce/USGS)

A United States Geological Survey hydrologist collecting samples for water-quality monitoring on the Unuk River, Alaska. (Photo supplied by Jamie Pierce/USGS)

Alaska demands action on B.C.’s ‘lax’ mining oversight

The state worries about impacts on fish habitat in Northwest transboundary watersheds

The United States government has approved US$3.6 million in spending to help Alaska pressure the B.C. government into reforming mining regulations they claim are lax and present an imminent threat to fish and habitat in transboundary watersheds.

On Dec. 21, U.S. Congress approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2021 that included US$3.1 million for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to expand a 2019 baseline water-quality monitoring program on rivers downstream from B.C. mines. An allocation of US$500,000 was also approved to shore up involvement of the U.S. Department of State to identify gaps in a memorandum of understanding between B.C. and Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana relating to mining activity in transboundary watersheds.

For five years, Alaskan Indigenous tribes and conservation groups have pushed for government involvement over worries of 12 proposed B.C. mines in northwest B.C. near salmon-bearing rivers that cross into the Alaskan panhandle.

As proof of inadequate regulatory oversight, they point to the 2014 breached tailings pond at the Mount Polly Mine in southern B.C. that released billions of litres of industrial waste into lakes and waterways.

“Historically, 80 per cent of southeast Alaska king salmon [chinook] have come from the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers — and yet, by this spring, all three rivers’ king salmon populations will likely be listed as stocks of concern, and B.C. is rushing through more than a dozen [very large] projects just over the Alaska border in those same river systems,” said Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders.

READ MORE: B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Scientists, elected officials and conservation groups also want B.C. bonding requirements increased to adequately cover the costs of remediation and spills.

In a statement, B.C.’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said it has a long history of working with Alaska over common interests, and addresses the issue of transboundary mining regularly through the framework of its Memorandum of Understanding to protect the shared environment, and a Statement of Cooperation on the Protection of Transboundary Waters.

In December last year, the B.C. government unveiled a new Environmental Assessment Act aimed at enhancing public confidence. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change said they received submissions from three Alaska-based First Nations and conservation groups during the consultation process.

The issue of transboundary mining receives little discussion in B.C., but is a hot-button issue in Alaska over concerns with hard-rock mines, and in states along the province’s southern border potentially affected by B.C. coal mines.

READ MORE: B.C. mayors want key role for resource development in pandemic recovery

In May, the province was forced into conversations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to explain why a coal mine in southern B.C. was allowed to exceed guidelines for selenium, a toxic heavy metal, at rates four times higher than allowable limits for drinking water, and 50 times higher than what’s recommended for aquatic health.

One month later, 22 U.S. and Canadian researchers published a letter in the journal Science critical of B.C.’s environmental assessment and oversight, calling the process weak and ineffective without regard for environmental risks over economic rewards. The letter urged governments to honour their obligations under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty to establish environmental reviews that are founded on independent, transparent and peer-reviewed science.

U.S. senators from Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Washington wrote a letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan last year, further pushing for action on potential impacts resulting from large-scale mines in B.C., including improved water quality monitoring.

– with files from Canadian Press



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Colin Springford doing what he loved best, tending to his garden. (Linda Matteson photo)
Longtime farmer Colin Springford dies at age 75

‘He will be deeply missed, always loved and never forgotten’

An architectural rendering provides a look at PC Urban’s proposal for three buildings on the former Galaxy Motors property at 1764 Island Hwy. in Colwood. (Rendering courtesy of PC Urban)
Commercial/industrial development planned for former Galaxy Motors site

Colwood proposal goes to public hearing Jan. 25

Scaredy Cats television series has turned Empress Avenue in Fernwood into a Halloween themed neighbourhood. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Trick or treat! Halloween comes to Fernwood in January

New television series Scaredy Cats filming in Victoria

Saanich has awarded the tender for a youth bike skills park planned for the lot next to the George Tripp BC Hydro Substation off Lochside Drive to Bike Track Ltd. for $242,000. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich selects company to build youth bike skills track at Tripp Station Park

More than $240,000 allotted for Bike Track Ltd. to design bike park

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Flags line the National Mall towards the Capitol Building as events get underway for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

The objectives of the Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society include peer support for parents and caregivers, as well as developing support services, projects, educational and employment opportunities for people with Down Syndrome. Photo supplied.
Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society offers support for families in the community

New non-profit seeking directors in cities across Vancouver Island

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Updated: Ucluelet paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

Most Read