Alaska, British Columbia ink transboundary agreement

Gov. Bill Walker signs a memorandum of understanding with British Columbia Wednesday as Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott watches. (Photo courtesy governor's office)
Gov. Bill Walker signs a memorandum of understanding with British Columbia on Wednesday as Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott watches. (Photo courtesy governor’s office)

Alaska and British Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation Wednesday expected to increase the state’s role in transboundary mine decisions.

Gov. Bill Walker and B.C. Premier Christy Clark signed the document during a teleconference. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and B.C. Mining Minister Bill Bennett oversaw its development.

Bennett says it’s an umbrella document that will eventually include detailed agreements covering permitting, water testing, transportation and other transboundary issues.

He says Alaska already has a voice in environmental reviews of provincial mining projects. That’s being expanded.

B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett discusses the week's mine meetings as Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and other state officials listen during a Wednesday press conference. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News).jpg
B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett discusses transboundary mining during an August trip to Juneau and Ketchikan. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“So now, once a project gets an environmental certificate and it goes into the mine permitting phase, the state of Alaska will have an opportunity to be on something called a mine review development committee that consists of local people in B.C., First nations people, government people, conservation groups, etcetera,” Bennett says.

He says the other agreements should be completed early next year.

Mine critics in Alaska have said such an agreement would have no teeth. And the document specifically says it imposes no legally binding obligations that could be taken to court.

Still, Alaska Trollers Association Executive Director Dale Kelley says it’s an important step.

“I’m very glad to see the state and British Columbia include transboundary waters in their collaborative effort between neighbors. It remains our hope that the state will also continue to work to secure legally binding agreements between the U.S. and Canada for the protection of our rivers. Because neither the state or the residents of the region can bear to risk an expensive, catastrophic mining accident,” Kelley says.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott says now is the time for the state to draw on the Permanent Fund to support state government. (Screenshot)
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott  has led Alaska’s effort to reach agreement on transboundary mine issues  with British Columbia officials. (KTOO file photo)

Bennett and Mallott say such provisions can only be part of a treaty between the federal governments of both nations.

The agreement comes shortly after Mallott asked his transboundary waters advisory group for input on a separate document, called a statement of cooperation.

The lieutenant governor says there’s no conflict between the two agreements.

“It is the umbrella memorandum of understanding between the two governments to which the statement of cooperation on transboundary issues will be appended when it is finalized,” Mallott says.

The memorandum is about more than mining.

Walker issued a statement saying it could also boost economic development on both sides of the border. That includes improved transportation links and tourism promotion. Clark issued a similar statement.

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