Byron Mallott: B.C. officials ‘sincere’ about safe mining

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott says British Columbia officials seem “sincere” about protecting transboundary rivers near provincial mines.

Mallott met today with top officials from B.C.’s mines andenvironment agencies.

Many Alaskans are concerned about potential damage to Unuk, Stikine and Taku river fisheries if the mines release toxic materials. All start in B.C. and enter the ocean along the Southeast coast.

Mallott said the tone turned somber when they discussed the Mount Polley Mine, where a large dam collapsed last August, sending silt and mud into nearby waterways.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, center, holds a press conference Monday with B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett and Environment Minister Mary Polak. (Photo courtesy British Columbia government)
Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, center, holds a press conference Monday with B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett and Environment Minister Mary Polak. (Photo courtesy British Columbia government)

“They were very serious about learning from the incident. They have made at least a ministerial … commitment that that type of accident will never occur again,” he said in a cellphone call from the Victoria, B.C., airport.

Mallott visits the Mount Polley area this week as he meets with government officials, industry representatives and tribal leaders.

He said he talked with the mining and environment ministers about information collected in watersheds before mining starts. That can be compared to later data to measure pollution.

In B.C., that information is often gathered by mining companies.

“We talked a little bit about whether some of that data should be obtained by the respective governments themselves,” he said.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker earlier this year designated Mallott to lead an internal transboundary waters working group. It includes commissioners of the Departments of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game, and Natural Resources.

Mallott also said B.C. Mining Minister Bill Bennett accepted an invitation to visit Southeast Alaska. Bennett promised a visit earlier this year, but it hasn’t happened.

A delegation of Southeast Alaska tribal and environmental activists are also in British Columbia for what’s called Mining Week. Some will cross paths with the lieutenant governor.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.