Transboundary Mines and Rivers
With the high price of gold and the Northwest Power Line promising cheap power, the British Columbia-Southeast Alaska Transboundry region is facing a rapid, large-scale wave of industrialization that could transform this area. Numerous mines are being proposed - along with roads, large-scale hydro projects, transmission lines, and giant storage areas for acid-generating waste rock and mine tailings. All of these impacts threaten the salmon bearing rivers so important to Southeast Alaska and British Columbia cultures and economies.
The fisheries on the Stikine, Taku and Unuk Rivers are all threatened.
In Northwest British Columbia there are currently 21 projects either active or in the later stages of exploration. Some of these projects are open pit mines that rival the size of the proposed Pebble Mine.
Lack of Environmental Review
The proposed mines in Canada that threaten Southeast Alaska's transboundary rivers, including the Taku, Stikine and Unuk--will not be subject to the type of environmental scrutiny that we take for granted in the U.S.. For instance, the Canadian version of the National Environmental Policy Act has no level of review equivalent to an Environmental Impact Study (EIS). This means that adequate baseline studies, opportunities for public input, and reviews of impacts on other industries and communities do not need to be conducted.
In addition, British Columbia’s water quality criteria are not as protective for many pollutants as those in Alaska. Protective standards for aluminum, copper, cyanide and lead are all set at a higher concentration than allowed for the protection of aquatic life in Alaska.
These concerns, especially the lack of baseline ecological infomation, recently prompted a group of 36 Canadian and U.S. scientists to write a letter warning of the environmental consequences of multiple development projects in the Alaska/BC transboundary region.
“The scale and intensity of proposed development certainly will fragment the watersheds with roads, transmission lines, river diversion projects, and open pit mines. Habitat for salmon and other wildlife will be destroyed at the development sites. Cumulative impacts likely will cascade throughout the watersheds in the form of altered flow and temperature patterns, disturbance to wildlife interacting with roads, and reduced water quality associated with sedimentation and acid mine drainage.”
Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) An open pit, cyanide leach, valley fill mine proposed to destroy three mountains and produce 1.62 billion tons of tailings held behind two dams the size of the Hoover just above the Unuk River. It also calls for a 195MW run-of-river dam that would divert the salmon-bearing Iskut River through a tunnel thirty-feet in diameter for nearly two miles.
Red Chris. Producing a proposed 30,000 tons of acid waste rock per day, this open-pit copper mine plans on using a trout lake as a holding pond for mine waste near the Iskut River, a tributary of the Stikine.
Schaft Creek – This proposed copper, molybdenum, and gold mine could produce upward of 1.5 billion tons of waste rock that would be stored in Mess Lake.
Galore Creek. A huge open pit mine producing 540 million tons of ore and 840 million tons of waste rock to be piled in two tributaries to the Stikine River.
Tulsequah Chief. This is the poster child of what could go wrong during exploration and development. The mine is estimated to leak 23,800 pounds of zinc, 5,100 pounds of copper, 122 pounds of lead and 40 pounds of arsenic every year into the Taku River.
No Benefits to Alaska
Separately these projects are daunting but together the cumulative impacts are truly daunting, and will require a concerted and organized effort.
To protect Alaska’s interests and valuable fishing industry, Alaska needs to begin collecting baseline water quality data on the Unuk, Stikine, Taku, and Nass Rivers at the border. It is the first of many necessary steps for Alaska to protect its industries and people from harm.
To get involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit riverswithoutborders.org to learn more.