Sadly, acid mine drainage continues - By Chris Miller Friday, May 24, 2019 7:00am OPINION
Last fall, as the leaves in the Taku watershed were waning toward their autumnal crescendo of color, I jumped aboard a Ward Air flight to packraft the Inklin, Taku and Tulsequah rivers and paddle back to Juneau.
As my travel partner Bjorn Dihle and I were making our way through the expanse of yellows, reds and umber speckled mountains, we were greeted by moose, mountain goats, black bears and a myriad of bird species eyeing our small boats floating down the river. The pervasive beauty of the Taku watershed was belied by our planned side trip up the Tulsequah River to inspect the continued pollution by the festering remnants of the Tulsequah Chief Mine.
My first trip to the mine site was in June 2010, with the intent of photographing the acid mine drainage polluting the Tulsequah River, the main tributary to the transboundary Taku River.
The mine owner, Redfern Resources, had gone bankrupt in 2009 and abandoned the mine site. This came after the company, for a decade, largely ignored its legal and financial responsibilities to stop the pollution, and neither British Columbia nor the Canadian federal government took the necessary enforcement actions to remediate the site.
In 2012, I spent 10 days documenting the Canadian commercial fishery just above the international boundary. The Canadian fishermen I spent time with were not outwardly opposed to the mine, on principle, so long as their provincial and national governments required the developers to clean up the existing mess.
As a commercial fisherman who cut his teeth at the mouth of the Taku, I echoed their sentiment in our conversations regarding the then newly created Chieftain Metals mining company, formed by the head of the bankrupt Redfern Resources, to remediate the mine site before reopening it. Chieftain installed a water treatment plant, but it only operated for a few months and closed in June 2012, claiming it was too expensive to operate and did not work properly.
As with Redfern, neither B.C. nor the Canadian federal government took any actions to remedy the situation. No action was taken to hold the company or its directors accountable for the ongoing pollution, or its significant violations of provincial and federal laws and permits, when Chieftain went bankrupt and abandoned the mine site in 2016.
Sadly, the acid mine drainage continues to flow as I witnessed again for the third time in almost a decade last October.
In this October 2018 photo, leaves and rocks coated in acid mine drainage from the Tulsequah Chief Mine flow into a creek in the Tulsequah River in British Columbia, Canada. (Courtesy Photo | Chris Miller)
B.C. is now saying some encouraging things about ending Tulsequah Chief’s pollution. B.C. has accepted a joint proposal for mine cleanup from consulting firms SRK Consulting and SNC-Lavalin. This is not at all a done deal, and many things still need to happen to ensure a thorough cleanup.
The Taku has historically been the most productive river in Southeast Alaska, with the region’s largest run of coho and king salmon. Properly managed, it will continue to provide jobs, food, recreation and culture for thousands of people across Southeast. The current decline in king numbers is likely a problem in the ocean, and this makes it even more vital for us to protect freshwater salmon habitat.
In April, Alaska fishing groups, businesses, tourism businesses and tribes representing thousands of Alaskans signed a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy urging him to seize “the best opportunity in 20 years to obtain real action from British Columbia to clean up and close down” the Tulsequah Chief Mine.
Cleaning up the Tulsequah Chief is an issue with broad support on both sides of the border, throughout Southeast and across the political spectrum. Fishermen, tribes, conservation groups, Alaska legislators, our congressional delegation and the U.S. federal government have over the last several years made significant progress in addressing the Tulsequah Chief issue.
We need Dunleavy to finish the job and ensure B.C. lives up to its promises and responsibilities, so that we can soon see a full and permanent solution to this abandoned and polluting mine.
As I floated down the Tulsequah River last fall, the acid mine drainage mirrored the same colors of the changing leaves. I hope the next time I return to find the only acidic orange colors in the falling leaves.
• Chris Miller is a professional photographer, based in Juneau, who focuses on commercial fisheries, and commercial and editorial assignments. Chris started his fishing career in Taku Inlet and has spent the last 13 summers commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.
mining proposal for skagit river headwaters in b.c. sparks outcry from congressional dems, gov. Inslee
By Evan Bush Seattle Times staff reporter May 22, 2019 at 8:34 am Updated May 22, 2019 at 12:19 pm
Nine members of Washington state’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, called Wednesday for the U.S. Department of State to intervene in a simmering dispute with Canada over a company’s proposal for exploratory mining in the headwaters of the Skagit River.
“The potential for releases of copper and other heavy metals would pollute waters downstream,” the congressional leaders wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, declaring their opposition to the project.
The letter outlines concerns over potential harms to Washington’s tourism and recreation economy, public health and vulnerable fish populations, among others.
Sen. Maria Cantwell organized the letter. Sen. Patty Murray and Representatives Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Pramila Jayapal, Kim Schrier, Adam Smith and Denny Heck were signatories.
Their request to the State Department follows a cascade of sternly worded letters from tribal leaders, elected officials and environmental organizations to B.C. officials. The mining proposal has stressed a typically affable relationship between Washington state and British Columbia, and could test a longstanding treaty between the U.S. and Canada over the Skagit River.
“Deny this permit,” wrote Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to British Columbia Premier John Horgan.
Mining in the headwaters of the Skagit “represents an unacceptable risk to a river that remains a bulwark to dwindling salmon,” wrote Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
The mining applicant, Imperial Metals, “would irreparably damage the water quality of the Skagit River,” added Benjamin Joseph, chairman of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe.
All told, more than 100 elected officials, tribal leaders and environmental organizations on both sides of the border have declared their opposition after the company filed for exploratory drilling permits, according to a tally by Tom Uniack, executive director of conservation nonprofit Washington Wild.
“We’re very hopeful, we have a lot of partners,” said Jeremy Wilbur, a senator for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, one of several tribes and First Nations with concerns. “We feel industrial mining and logging in this sensitive part of the Skagit headwaters ecosystem must be rejected.”
Imperial Metals, known for an environmental disaster at its Mount Polley mine in eastern British Columbia, applied for a permit to explore for gold in an area known as the “donut hole” last December. The Canadian government notified Seattle officials of the proposal in March. It’s currently under review, after a public comment period.
The company’s application shows that it hopes to access drill sites using roads carved through the area during controversial clear-cutting logging operations last summer.
The donut hole is a Manhattan-sized patch of public land left unprotected because of historic mineral and logging rights. Provincial parks encircle the donut hole, and some conservationists argue it should be part of those parks. Alpine snowpack in the area feeds the Skagit’s headwaters.
The Skagit River is the top salmon-producing river in Washington state, and its waters churn through hydropower turbines at Ross Dam, among others, to bring Seattle much of its electricity. Endangered bull trout live in its upper reaches.
Conservationists cried foul after B.C. loggers last summer began to fell trees in the donut hole, after a B.C. government-approved timber sale. But the possibility of mining was always conservationists’ greatest fear because dissolved metals, particularly copper, are toxic to salmon.
Elected officials south of the 49th parallel contend that mining and logging in the donut hole are at odds with a 1984 treaty and agreement.
Before the treaty, British Columbia and Seattle were in dispute over the city’s plan to generate more electricity from the Skagit’s Ross Dam, by building the structure higher. A taller dam would send Ross Lake flooding farther into B.C., something environmentalists opposed. After protests, Seattle agreed to halt the dam project in exchange for inexpensive B.C. hydropower through 2065.
The U.S. and Canada cemented the local deal with a treaty. The agreement created the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission (SEEC) to conserve the watershed on both sides of the border, enhance recreation there and seek its protection. The B.C. premier and Seattle mayor each appoint four commissioners to lead SEEC.
Last year, SEEC commissioners learned of ongoing logging operations in the Skagit watershed and raised concerns with B.C.’s forestry ministry. The commissioners also alerted Durkan.
After Durkan wrote to Premier Horgan, the ministry last summer put future timber sales in the donut hole on hold. Logging that had been already approved was finished by summer’s end.
This April, B.C. mining and forestry officials met with members of the SEEC commission, including Thomas Curley, a Canadian appointee.
“It was a productive meeting,” Curley said, adding that Forestry Minister Doug Donaldson committed to prevent future timber sales in the donut hole and to deactivate logging roads there.
“Restoration of vegetation and land contours on the blocks which have already been logged will occur in the next two years,” Curley said. Officials promised to notify SEEC of any changes planned for the area.
With the logging issue seemingly resolved, attention is now fixed on Imperial Metals’ application to drill for up to five years inside the donut hole. The company would set up trenches and build settling ponds for the exploratory work in an area believed to have gold and copper.
ADVERTISINGTribes, First Nations, governments and environmental groups, fearing the impacts to fish, have organizing opposition to the project for months.
Wilbur said the Swinomish community worries mining could have “ripple effects” into the Salish Sea. He said Swinomish leaders believe the B.C. government must consult with tribal governments about effects.
“We depend on salmon for ceremonial, subsistence and commercial fishing activities. The Imperial Metals gold-mining operation threatens those activities. That’s our way of life,” Wilbur said.
Seattle City Light, meanwhile, sent a list of more technical concerns to the B.C. chief inspector of mines, outlining possible environmental impacts of mining such as erosion and sedimentation from trail construction, water diversion for mining, heavy metal impacts from drilling and impacts on recreation, among others.
The SEEC commissioners have asked for mining to be prohibited in the watershed, Curley said. The commission wants the B.C. government to help facilitate the purchase of mineral rights, so the donut hole can be preserved for habitat and recreation.
Imperial Metals CEO Brian Kynoch did not immediately return a phone call or email Wednesday.
ADVERTISINGEarlier this year, Kynoch said the company needed to explore to determine where its donut-hole mining rights fit into the company’s overall plans. Last year, he told The Seattle Times that he recognized the company would have to produce a sufficient plan to mitigate harms to fish in order to obtain mining permits.
“You need to come up with a plan that’s not going to harm the salmon,” he said.
It’s not clear when the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources will decide on the Imperial Metals application. The ministry did not respond on-record to a request for comment.
By Robert Harding email@example.com, Auburn Pub May 21, 2019
Jane Corwin is ready to get to work.
The New Yorker is one of six new members of the International Joint Commission, a bi-national panel responsible for overseeing shared boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada. Each country has three seats on the commission.
Corwin, a former state assemblywoman from western New York, will serve as U.S. section chair. She will be joined by Rob Sisson, of Michigan, and Lance Yohe, of North Dakota. The trio was confirmed by the Senate last week.
The Canadian commissioners are Pierre Beland, of Montreal, F. Henry Lickers, of Akwesasne, Ontario, and Merrell-Ann Phare, of Winnipeg. Beland is the Canadian section chair.
Corwin said in an interview with The Citizen that she's eager to meet the Canadian commissioners to develop a calendar of meetings on governing the waterways within the panel's purview. From those meetings, she hopes to set the commission's priorities.
The new Canadian members of the International Joint Commission are Merrell-Ann Phare, Pierre Beland and Henry Lickers.
One of the top priorities will likely be the rising water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Corwin, whose former Assembly district included communities along the lake, is aware of the flooding along the lake and river. As a state lawmaker, she opposed the adoption of Plan 2014 — a water management plan that determines how the commission will regulate lake levels.
Corwin acknowledged last year that it's unlikely Plan 2014 will be abolished, despite calls from federal, state and local officials to ditch the regulatory guide.
Last week, she noted that New York isn't alone in experiencing flooding. Water levels have been high along the St. Lawrence River. Flooding has affected several communities in Canada and water levels are high in the Great Lakes.
"This issue is touching on several different commissioners, so I'm sure there will be a discussion about it," Corwin said.
The other incoming U.S. commissioners are aware of the problem. Sisson, whose sister-in-law lives in the Syracuse area, has followed news coverage of the flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. He said the commissioners received a briefing on Plan 2014 after they were first nominated last year.
Sisson said he's been informed that commission staff is planning to brief them on Lake Ontario flooding.
"There's some issues all across the border," he said, "but I think the most pressing is what's happening in the Great Lakes right now and the water levels."
Yohe agrees with his colleagues that Lake Ontario flooding will be on their agenda. He also noted that there are other areas along the U.S. Canadian border that are experiencing flooding.
"Those will probably be the first priorities," he said.
President Donald Trump first nominated Corwin, Sisson and Yohe in August 2018. However, the Senate didn't consider their nominations before the end of the year and Trump renominated the trio in January.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the nominations in April. The Senate confirmed Corwin, Sisson and Yohe by unanimous consent Thursday.
Corwin, Sisson and Yohe will replace two holdovers from the Obama administration — Lana Pollack, who served as U.S. section chair since 2010, and Rich Moy. The third U.S. seat has been vacant since 2016.
With only two U.S. members and no Canadian commissioners, the IJC lacked a quorum. U.S. Rep. John Katko, a leading critic of Plan 2014, said the unfilled seats prevented "any substantive response to the serious threats posed by high lake levels."
"I am hopeful that, while this process took much longer than required, the concerns of Lake Ontario residents, property owners, businesses and municipalities will finally begin to be addressed," Katko, R-Camillus said.
Now that the commission is at full strength, Corwin is hopeful that progress can be made on Lake Ontario water levels and other issues.
While she praised Moy and Pollack, she said the lack of a quorum "makes it very difficult for progress to be made." That's why she was excited to learn that Canada appointed new commissioners to the panel.
"It gives you a fresh start, a new beginning, a great opportunity for everybody to come in at the same time and make an impact," Corwin said.
By KIMBERLY CAUVEL @Kimberly_SVH
A Canadian company has proposed exploratory mining for gold and copper in the headwaters of the Skagit River in British Columbia.
Some officials, tribes and conservation groups on both sides of the border say the proposal threatens the environment of the Skagit River watershed and that it violates an agreement — the High Ross Treaty — that has been in place between the United States and Canada for 35 years.
In the latest show of opposition, a letter was sent Thursday to an official in British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. The letter was signed by officials and nonprofits.
Among them are state Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, the nine Seattle City Council members and representatives of national groups such as American Rivers and Defenders of Wildlife. Local groups that signed include the Skagit Watershed Council and Skagit Land Trust.
Imperial Metals Corporation applied in March for permits to drill for mineral deposits for up to five years, the Associated Press reported. The company wants to search for gold and copper in the area where the Skagit River begins, in the Canadian portion of the Cascade Range.
According to Imperial Metals’ permit application, exploratory mining would involve building roads, helicopter landing sites, air strips, boat ramps and settling ponds as well as doing surface drilling. The company expects those activities to impact about 0.9 of an acre.
As the Skagit River passes through Whatcom and Skagit counties, it provides water for drinking, irrigation, fish and recreation. Those opposed to the exploratory mining proposal say it would put the river and everything that relies on it at risk.
“Washington’s Skagit River and its international watershed is a key provider of healthy salmon populations, resources associated with tribal treaty rights, world class recreational opportunities on national park and forest lands and fresh water for agriculture and ultimately Puget Sound,” Tom Uniack, executive director for the conservation organization Washington Wild, said in a news release accompanying Thursday’s letter.
That letter follows others from area tribes, Seattle officials and nonprofits.
Leaders of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs expressed alarm over the proposal in an opinion piece published May 12 in The Seattle Times.
“Mining in the Skagit River headwaters is antithetical to salmon recovery and our way of life,” the opinion piece reads. “Our subsistence, cultural and commercial activities are dependent upon wild salmon, and are central pillars to Washington tribes’ treaty-protected rights.”
From its headwaters, the Skagit River passes through Seattle City Light’s three hydroelectric dams in Whatcom County before carving through Skagit County and emptying into the Salish Sea.
The Skagit River also winds through the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the agriculturally rich Skagit Valley. The river provides one-third of the freshwater flowing into Puget Sound.
Along the way, the river supports all five species of Pacific salmon as well as steelhead trout. Some of those fish, particularly threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon, are critical food for the endangered Southern Resident orca whales, which the state has been trying to prevent from going extinct.
“The Washington state Legislature is putting time, effort and resources into restoring and preserving salmon habitat to help with the recovery of our beloved resident orca,” Lovelett said in a statement she released May 1. “Siting a mine at the headwaters of this watershed risks too much.”
Imperial Metals is known for a past environmental mishap at one of its mines. A slurry was released from its Mount Polley mine into Polley Lake in 2014 following years of copper and gold mining — an operation similar to what the company now envisions for the Skagit River headwaters.
“The headwaters of the Skagit River is no place for a mine and the headwaters of any river should no longer be a place where this mining company should be involved,” Leo Bodensteiner, U.S. chair of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, said in the release that accompanied Thursday’s letter. “Imperial Metals is responsible for the largest mining disaster in British Columbia history.”
According to Canadian news organizations, the mishap at Polley Lake occurred due to a dam break at the mine site, about 250 miles north of the area the company is now eyeing at Silverdaisy Mountain in the headwaters of the Skagit River.
Silverdaisy Mountain is in an unprotected area — referred to as the “donut hole” — between British Columbia’s Skagit Valley and E.C. Manning provincial parks.
South of this “donut hole” is protected land — both in British Columbia and the U.S. — that the regional nonprofit Conservation Northwest said makes up one of the largest blocks of interconnected protected land along the shared border.
Ross Lake, a National Recreation Area in the North Cascades complex, sits almost directly south of Silverdaisy Mountain.
The creation of Ross Lake after construction of Seattle City Light’s Ross Dam led to the High Ross Treaty, which was signed in 1984.
The most recent mining opposition letter urges British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources to deny the proposed mining and work toward long-term protection of the Skagit River headwaters as called for in the treaty and set as the mission of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission.
Conservation Northwest, which signed on to the group letter this week, also submitted an independent comment in response to the proposal.
In that comment, International Programs Director Joe Scott said the organization stands with the Native American and First Nation tribes, and the dozens of other conservation and recreation groups who have spoken out.
“Industrial activities as proposed in the application are ill-advised and inappropriate in such a sensitive area with such high ecological, environmental and recreational values,” Scott wrote.
By Ryan Whalen
PUBLISHED 5:49 PM ET May. 16, 2019 UPDATED 11:26 PM ET May. 16, 2019
The U.S. Senate has finally confirmed three new members of the International Joint Commission, which regulates water levels for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.
Lawmakers in New York have been pushing for the positions to be filled for roughly two years. Canada still has three vacancies and needs to appoint at least one commissioner before there is a quorum and the body can meet.
However, with Lake Ontario water levels at record highs and local leaders concerned about a repeat of 2017 flooding, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the confirmations.
“The filling of all three U.S. seats on the IJC is a major step in the right direction and will help prepare New York State for the absolute worst,” he said. “I was proud to support the confirmation of these nominees to the IJC and look forward to working in lockstep with them to shield Lake Ontario communities from more devastating flooding.”
Former New York State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, will be the new chair of the commission. Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27, recommended Corwin.
“President Trump could not have made a better choice than Jane L. Corwin to be the next U.S. Chair of the IJC,” he said. ” Thanks to his leadership, we now have a voice for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shoreline residents. Jane’s experience as an Assemblywoman for the Ontario Lakeshore properties and her understanding of the issues with Plan 2014 will make her an exceptional leader of the Commission. I know Jane, as well as Commissioners Robert Sission and Lance Yohe, will protect the homeowners and small businesses along our shorelines.”
The IJC would have the authority to move away from the controversial Plan 2014, which currently regulates outflows for the various bodies of water. Many homeowners and elected officials in Lake Ontario communities believe the plan is at least partially responsible for the 2017 damage and potential damage this year.
The state has already started sending resources to communities this year in anticipation of flooding.
Reforms required to address ‘ticking time bomb’ of abandoned mines and protect taxpayers from millions in liabilities, authors of new report say
May 15, 2019 11 min read
If a mining company cannot provide the full security to pay for clean-up and reclamation costs upfront, it should not be allowed to open a mine.
This is one of almost 70 recommendations released today in Victoria — part of a sweeping package of legal reforms launched by at least 30 mining advocacy and law organizations — designed to overhaul the way British Columbia regulates exploration, placer mining and metal/mineral mining.
“This will be the day that we begin to change B.C.’s outdated, archaic mining laws,” said Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria. “Too many of our laws find their origin in the 19th century.”
There are 1,100 closed mines across British Columbia, which Sandborn called “ecological ticking time bombs.”
B.C. Mining Law Reform: A Plan of Action for Change is the product of almost two years of research initiated by the Environmental Law Centre, with support from Indigenous advocates and groups like MiningWatch Canada.
British Columbians impacted by mining shared their stories from all corners of the province at a press conference launching the reform campaign.
“We were devastated on the morning of August 4, 2014,” said Christine McLean of the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, referencing the Mount Polley mine disaster, which resulted in an estimated 25 billion litres of contaminated materials flowing into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake.
“Despair turned to anger for me and many of our friends and neighbours when the B.C. government allowed the mine to resume full operations, and in April 2017 issued a permit to build a pipeline to discharge mine waste water directly into the lake, allowing the ongoing pollution of Quesnel Lake.”
Christine McLean of the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake launched an appeal to challenge Mount Polley mine’s permit to discharge effluent into Quesnel Lake. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
Cindy Charleyboy of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining spoke of the Tsilhqot’in’s fight for the past decade to stop the Taseko Mine, proposed for Teztan Biny, also known as Fish Lake.
“The lake is pristine and that water is needed there, untouched, so we can continue our Indigenous ways of life, our culture, language and spirituality uninterrupted so we can provide for our families,” Charleyboy said.
Cindy Charleyboy of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining said: “We are all here together in what is known as ‘Super, Natural BC.’ What are we going to do about it?” Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
Sandborn said most British Columbians haven’t been aware of the urgent need to update B.C.’s mining laws. He pointed to an expert panel report on the Mount Polley mine disaster that predicted two tailings pond failures every 10 years and called on the province to phase out liquid tailings ponds.
“That hasn’t happened,” Sandborn said. “That’s why we’re here.”
The proposed law reforms target nine subject areas, including water protection, First Nations governance, mining tenure and the imperative to protect taxpayers from billions in mine clean-up costs.
Water is the common thread that runs through the reform package.
“We want to change the way mining is done in B.C., and in particular, the need to protect water,” said Ugo Lapointe of Ottawa-based MiningWatch Canada, which participated in drafting recommendations. “We say yes to mining, but not if it contaminates water.”
Good timing for changes?The timing of the launch reflects three things: May is B.C. Mining Month, an annual industry celebration. It’s also the same month that McLean was supposed to get her hearing to challenge Mount Polley’s permit to discharge effluent into Quesnel Lake. And finally, B.C. has already started reviewing several mining-related laws.
The Mount Polley mine in central B.C., owned by Vancouver’s Imperial Metals, got permission in spring 2017 to discharge almost 60,000 cubic metres per day of tailings effluent into Quesnel lake. Christine McLean, who lives close to the lake, is currently trying to quash this permit and close this pipeline for good. On Wednesday, she released this underwater video.
“This is the opportune time to bring up the problems we have identified over the last few decades,” Sandborn said. He said many of the recommendations are designed to anticipate current government efforts to reform mining laws — including possible changes to the way mine securities are set for mining companies and the Mineral Tenure Act, which regulates placer and mineral rights.
“For years we had a government that wasn’t going to reform anything, they were totally in the thrall of the mining industry,” Sandborn said. “Now we have a government that will at least listen, so there’s a better opportunity [for change] today than a few years ago.”
Step one: change how mining claims are stakedB.C.’s mineral tenure laws, which determine where mining can occur, are a relic of our gold rush past and must change, Sandborn said. Today a prospector can go online without setting foot on the land and secure access to the sub-surface in most of the province, including beneath private property and First Nations traditional territories.
The dysfunction was apparent back in 2017, when Bev Sellars, a former chief of the Xat’sull First Nation at Soda Creek (and member of advocacy group First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining — located not far from the Mount Polley mine), grew so frustrated with the lack of placer mining regulation (e.g., mining streambeds for gold nuggets and dust) that she legally staked the subsurface rights to the Cranbrook area property of then-energy and mines minister Bill Bennett. (It took Sellars less than an hour and about $130 in fees from her desktop computer.)
The coalition is calling for government to consider a broad range of interests before issuing tenures to miners, including Indigenous free, prior and informed consent. Landowner consent should also be required for mining activities to commence on private property, and “no-go” areas need to be mandated to protect sensitive environments. The latter could prevent situations like Imperial Metals’ current exploration plans in the “doughnut hole,” located in the headwaters of the Canada-U.S. transboundary Skagit river.
Lapointe said this legal overhaul is long overdue.
“B.C. is the only province in Canada that has not yet revised its mineral tenure laws,” he said. Ontario now requires information sharing and consultation with First Nations, while Quebec requires written consent from landowners before exploration work can start.
Ugo Lapointe of Mining Watch Canada. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
A spokesman for the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources confirmed the ministry has started “pre-engagement” with First Nations and industry on proposed changes to tenure laws, but would not confirm specific content or a timeline for changes.
Mount Polley’s long shadowMany of the coalition recommendations address legal deficiencies exposed right before and after the Mount Polley mine disaster in 2014.
Most recently, the mine got permission in spring 2017 to discharge almost 60,000 cubic metres per day of tailings effluent into the lake. The company has been found out of compliance at least three times in 2018 alone, and has yet to pay a fine for this or the 2014 spill.
Sandborn said B.C. needs to finally act on the government’s expert panel recommendations made in the wake of the disaster. This includes an end of wet tailings storage for new mines in most cases, and a plan to safely retire at least 60 active mine tailings dams in B.C.
Perpetual pollution and the mother of all subsidiesA major thrust of the reform campaign is to ensure present and future generations are not on the hook for billions in mine clean-up costs.
“The taxpayers of B.C. are put in jeopardy by the archaic mining laws we have today,” Sandborn said, pointing out there are 123 tailings lakes in the province.
Today across B.C., 14 major mines rely on water treatment facilities to ensure water does not pollute the surrounding environment. The province estimates an additional 45 mines have moderate-to-high acid rock drainage/leaching potential — and predicts that 12 of these will require perpetual water treatment.
A cautionary tale is the long-closed Britannia mine, which cost taxpayers $46 million to control acid rock drainage, and now requires $3 million per year, every year (in perpetuity) to treat water.
The coalition is pushing for B.C. to stop permitting mines that have serious potential to require permanent water treatment — and adopt the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance standard for responsible mining water management standards, which sets good practices for mining and water protection at an industrial scale.
B.C. must also start regularly inspecting the closed and abandoned mines across the province, “to see how many of them are ticking timebombs,” Sandborn said.
He cites the example of the shuttered Jordan River mine, closed in 1974, which the government didn’t inspect for decades and, in that time, devastated the river’s salmon runs.
Ken Farquharson, a former Canadian commissioner of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, with a map of B.C.’s active and inactive mines from the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
Farquharson points to Jordan River, where a mine has left a toxic legacy, but isn’t even marked on the B.C. government’s map of the province’s mines. Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
Paying for clean-up costs upfrontFor the mines that do go forward, British Columbia needs to get 100 per cent of the full clean-up and closure/reclamation costs upfront, the report recommends.
This would prevent what MiningWatch Canada research coordinator Catherine Coumans has called the biggest subsidy that miners receive — the ability to walk away from a mine and have taxpayers (or the environment) pay the cost. MiningWatch estimates that old B.C. mine sites collectively account for more than $3 billion in “unfunded clean-up liabilities” for taxpayers.
“We need to ensure that taxpayers don’t pick up the tab for this,” Sandborn said. “The polluter must pay.”
B.C. must follow the lead of places like Alaska and many others, which require 100 per cent security provided upfront before a mine is permitted to operate. For B.C. mines already in operation, the report said, owners would have two years to come up with the full amount.
The lax nature of B.C. law has created a surreal situation for Canadian mining giant Teck. For an Alaskan mine, they have been forced to provide the full security for estimated reclamation costs ($560 million), yet the same company’s B.C. mines have unsecured reclamation costs of $700 million dollars.
The province is currently looking at updating how securities are set for new mines, but Sandborn (who has seen draft policy ideas) said the province is not planning on requiring 100 per cent of cleanup costs upfront.
What’s next?After today’s event in Victoria, Lapointe and other campaign leaders plan to meet with the provincial government to discuss legal reform. And instead of one organization talking to government, they will present a united front of 30 different groups.
Moving forward, they hope to grow the coalition, reaching out to the public, municipalities and labour unions. “The idea moving forward is to broaden the circle of support for change,” Lapointe said.
The coalition also plans to continue its support of McLean and the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake in their efforts to get the pipe out of their lake.
McLean’s citizen-launched appeal to challenge Mount Polley’s discharge permit scheduled for May has now been delayed. This comes as Mount Polley prepares to close down and enter “care and maintenance” at the end of this month — eliminating precious hinterland jobs and raising a whole new set of uncertainties around how and when the mine will be cleaned up.
Imperial Metals has struggled financially, with experts warning the company may be on the brink of bankruptcy, and the company selling off a 70 per cent stake in its Red Chris Mine earlier this year to Australia’s Newcrest Mining.
— With files from Emma Gilchrist
Posted by June Leffler, KSTK| May 9, 2019
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has pledged to engage with British Columbia to protect Alaska’s natural resources and environment. That’s in response to lawmakers’ concern over potential threats from transboundary mining.
Lawmakers across party lines penned a letter last month urging the Dunleavy administration to keep a close eye on Canadian mines in shared watersheds.
Twenty two legislators signed the letter urging the governor and lieutenant governor to pick up where the Walker administration left off.
This month they got an answer. A two-page letter signed by the governor catalogued high-level contacts between state and provincial officials. He called it “important work” to remain engaged over transboundary rivers.
“They said in the letter that they were going to continue with the process, so I was heartened by that,” said Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz. “But it was not quite as energetic as I would have liked to seen.”
There was no specific mention of mining in the governor’s letter. Lawmakers had raised concerns over the roughly dozen B.C. mines that are permitted, operating or lie abandoned in shared watersheds with Southeast Alaska.
Last year Gov. Walker had urged B.C. to require mine operators post reclamation bonds before work starts. That’s in line with Alaska regulations designed to ensure mining companies can afford to pay for clean up later. It’s also insurance toward catastrophes.
Environmental and fishing groups on both sides of the border have been pushing B.C. reform its mining regulations for years.
Jill Weitz is with Salmon Beyond Borders in Juneau.
“There’s a need for financial assurances, essentially liability and accountability, to be placed on the B.C. mining industry for impacts to our shared water,” said Jill Weitz with Salmon Beyond Borders in Juneau. “As opposed to the communities of Southeast Alaska having to pay the burden of those impacts from their mining practices.”
Gov. Dunleavy’s letter didn’t get into specifics. But it said a teleconference between his cabinet and B.C. ministers is planned for June 18.
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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