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.
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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