The state of Alaska is requesting to be involved with Canadian approval of a proposed copper and gold mine across the border in British Columbia. State commissioners of three departments submitted comments on Seabridge Gold’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell or KSM mine this month. That open pit mine is planned in the Unuk and Nass river watersheds across the border from Ketchikan. Alaska’s congressional delegation, fishing industry and tribal groups have asked for a more detailed review of that project following a tailings dam failure at a different mine in British Columbia this month.
Fishing industry and tribal groups called for what’s called a panel review of the gold and copper project. Such a review could include public hearings and independent assessment of the mining development. Petersburg Vessel Owners Association’s Brian Lynch wants to prevent the tailings dam failure that happened at the Mount Polley mine. “The panel review is the only thing I think that would give us any kind of assurance that we’re not going to have something like that happen. There’s no guarantees but I think if the KSM mine is fully constructed that would be the only thing that would give us any kind of assurances that the water quality will not be impaired for either the Unuk or the Nass River.”
KSM received approval from the British Columbia provincial government this summer. The Canadian federal government still has to decide on the project.
The PVOA, Alaska Trollers Association, tribal organizations and Alaska’s Congressional delegation have appealed to the U.S. State Department to seek greater oversight from the Canadian federal government. Groups are hoping Secretary of State John Kerry will invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada as a tool to encourage increased scrutiny of KSM and other large mine projects proposed in the region.
Lynch thinks there’s a lack of oversight with projects proposed near rivers that flow out of British Columbia into Southeast Alaska. And he said it’s an economics issue for the fishing industry not just an environmental one. “We have sustainable fisheries, fisheries in Southeast have gone on for about a hundred years. And there’s really no reason barring some disaster why it can’t go on for another hundred plus years. However, with KSM, their mine life they’re estimating 52 years. Well I know fishermen here in Alaska that have been fishing themselves, individuals for 50 years.”
The state of Alaska’s comments on the KSM mine are signed by the commissioners of three departments, Natural Resources, Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation. Those comments note that a panel review of the KSM Project may serve to address some of the continuing concerns held by Alaskans.
Kyle Moselle is large project coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources “What the commissioners have asked of the minister of environment is to fully consider those concerns and apply the most appropriate administrative process for addressing them.”
Moselle said the state of Alaska has been involved in the review of the KSM mine going back to 2008. And he says it’s too early to say what actions should result from the tailings dam breach at Mount Polley. “What the state of Alaska is looking for is a thorough investigation of the events that led up to that dam breach. There’s going to be a lot of information that needs to be gathered. It needs to be investigated fully. And there will be a report that summarizes that investigation. I think that we’ll be able to make better decisions as a state about what actions to take once we have that information.”
The state’s comments ask to review the plans for the tailings facility at the KSM mine and the commissioner formally request to be included in the development of authorizations for this project. The State also requests to be included in the development of monitoring plans associated with water quality, dam safety, and aquatic resources.
“We have good working relationships with BC,” Moselle said. “We have good working relationships with the federal government of Canada and we’re building on those relationships as we move forward and as they move forward on the review of additional mining projects that are proposed.”
New mines are also planned around the Stikine and Taku river watersheds.