On August 4th, 2014, Mt. Polley mine’s tailings dam failed and released 6.6 billion gallons of toxic mine waste into British Columbia’s (B.C.’s) Fraser River watershed, just as the sockeye salmon were returning. An independent investigation of the spill found that the kind of earthen tailings dam used was fundamentally flawed - and that dams of these kind could be expected to fail twice every ten years. This same kind of tailings dam is currently used by Mt. Polley’s sister mine, the Red Chris Mine, in the Stikine River watershed upstream of Wrangell, Alaska.
Three years later, no charges or fines have resulted from the largest mining disaster in Canadian history. The minimal clean-up completed has been subsidized by the B.C. government and taxpayers, at an estimated $31.5 million in clean-up costs, which inspectors tied to “poor practices” and “non-compliance” as noted in the Bowker/Chambers report.
In addition, B.C.’s two-year audit of the B.C. Ministry of Environment and the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines, released in May of 2016, found that “almost all of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program were not met. As a result, monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate to ensure mine operators complied with requirements.”
Lack of oversight, minimal financial liability, and a push to build new mines in B.C. has created a lethal combination for the transboundary salmon rivers of Southeast Alaska. Our neighbors in B.C. will feel the impacts of the Mt. Polley mine disaster forever - there is no clean-up that could ever return the Fraser River watershed to how it was before the Mt. Polley mine disaster.
“Our neighbors in B.C. will feel the impacts of the Mt. Polley mine disaster forever - there is no clean-up that could ever return the Fraser River watershed to how it was before the Mt. Polley mine disaster.”
Imagine such a disaster happening in the Taku River watershed upstream of Juneau, the Stikine River watershed, or the Unuk River watershed near Ketchikan. All three of these major salmon-producing rivers have Canadian mines either in exploration, development, or operation. And, if history serves, these mines will have little safety measures and no steps in place to protect Alaskans if something goes wrong.
You would think that after seeing the devastation of the Mt. Polley mine disaster, that the B.C. government would take action to protect their citizens, salmon, and land from such an event ever happening again. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Nothing has changed three years later and B.C.’s inaction continues to put Alaskans at risk.
There is no financial benefit for Alaskans when it comes to Canadian mines - only risk. We need your help to get that message out - we’re rallying voices at all levels:
With the three year anniversary approaching, we honor and remember those impacted by the disaster at Mount Polley and vow to continue doing our part to ensure this devastation will not happen again.
Hi! My name is Erin Heist, and I'm a salmon lover. In April I started working for our Southeast Alaskan salmon with the Salmon Beyond Borders team as the new outreach coordinator. We've had a lot going on with Salmon Beyond Borders this summer, so even though I've only been in the job for three months, you may have already read some of my emails, met me on the docks, seen me in the 4th of July parade, or liked one of my pictures on Instagram.
I'm a Southeast girl through and through. Born in Ketchikan, raised in Juneau, I am a die-hard advocate for our Southeast Alaskan way of life. And wild, healthy salmon are at the heart of what it means to love this place. Whether you live in the big city of Juneau or you're a year-rounder in Angoon, salmon shape your life. They fuel the people, the animals, and even the land through the nutrients they provide to our forest.
I sometimes find it difficult to explain to friends and family in the lower 48 what it feels like to be of a place like Alaska. Like a lot of Southeast Alaskans, my fridge, freezer, and pantry is full of food I hunted, fished, and foraged (which I blog about at foodabe.com). We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, in a landscape that not only inspires, but provides and sustains us. There's a fashion right now for locally-sourced, organic, natural, non-GMO, wild foods. For once, we Alaskans are on the cutting edge, because we've always known the intense connection and thankfulness that comes from the intimacy of harvesting our own food.
In the office the other day we were talking about 'salmon love stories.' I'm not sure I have one grand love story to salmon, more like lots of little stories. The magic I felt as a kid when my dad would fillet a just-caught salmon and let us hold that still beating chestnut of a heart; the first time I hooked a bright silver on a fly rod, the hen bursting from the water to try and shake me off; the rich distinct smell of low-tide in spawning season, awful and wonderful at the same time; the taste of the summer's first king shared with friends around a midnight bonfire.
This love for our salmon is what drives my work with Salmon Beyond Borders. It is unthinkable to me that some of the largest open-pit mines in the world are under development in the headwaters of some of our most important salmon rivers - we're talking Pebble Mine in our back yard. B.C.'s record is horrible, and after what we saw happen to the Fraser River watershed just three years ago when the Mt. Polley Mine disaster happened, we have to do do everything we can to defend our salmon rivers.
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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