BC officials to visit Alaska for transboundary mine dialogue

Drilled rock cores wait for analysis at the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell project, one of the British Columbia mines planned for near the Southeast Alaska border.  (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
Drilled rock cores wait for analysis at the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell project, one of the British Columbia mines planned for near the Southeast Alaska border. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

British Columbia officials travel to Southeast Alaska next week to discuss concerns about transboundary mines.

B.C. Minister of Mines Bill Bennett and Deputy Minister of the Environment Wes Shoemaker will lead the seven-person delegation. They’ll spend four days in Juneau and Ketchikan.

Meetings with state officials are being led by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who chairs the state’s transboundary mine working group. B.C. officials will also meet with tribal, industry, legislative and conservation leaders.

Mine critics are gearing up for the chance to confront Bennett and others about regulations and permits they consider lax.

Heather Hardcastle of Salmon Beyond Borders says the mines could pollute rivers that flow into Alaska and threaten valuable fisheries.

“I do think this issue of upstream development means that we’re taking on the risks and receiving no benefits. It’s uniting all of us on this side to come up with a better relationship with Canada.”

British Columbia officials will also meet with the Southeast Conference, a regional development group, and the Alaska Miners Association.

Association Executive Director Deantha Crockett says she understands critics’ concerns. But she says B.C. mines could be good for Alaskans.

“There’s a lot of contracting that happens with a mining project, a lot of associated trickle-down jobs that happen with the mining projects that we could very well have a part in.”

The itinerary also includes the Greens Creek Mine, near Juneau, which stores waste rock dry, rather than under water behind a dam. Some officials will also travel up the transboundary Taku River to B.C. and Alaska fisheries field camps.

Environmentalists also plan a rally on the Capitol steps at noon Wednesday to share concerns from around the region. The group Inside Passage Waterkeeper collected hundreds of rubber boots to present to the governor as part of its campaign.

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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.