Petersburg assembly calls for tailings dam ban and a pause on British Columbia mining permits

A wide river with mountains in the background
The Stikine River on the U.S. side of the border near Wrangell (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly Tuesday passed a resolution seeking changes in operations and permitting for precious metal mines in British Columbia near salmon rivers that flow into Southeast Alaska.

It’s the latest in a series of statements the local government has made expressing concern about water quality and oversight of Canadian mines that have the potential to impact the water and fish of this region. This resolution asks for a permanent ban on the use of mine tailings dams and a pause on permitting for new mine projects until there’s an agreement between the U.S. and Canada on protecting rivers from mining pollution.

Petersburg resident and former state fish biologist Brian Lynch is with Rivers Without Borders, and he urged passage of the statement. He said that Canada often seeks reductions in commercial fishing in Alaska, an analogy brought up earlier in the day.

“They do this because they have an equal seat at the treaty table with us, where they can present their positions on our salmon harvests,” Lynch said. “That is their prerogative and their right to do so within the treaty process. That is exactly the sort of process and right that this resolution is seeking. The pause in mine development and permitting sought by this resolution is have time to develop binding international agreement on watershed protections developed by all jurisdictions in these shared transboundary watersheds.”

The assembly also heard from representatives with the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission and Salmon Beyond Borders.

Assembly member Bob Lynn was not in support of the resolution as drafted. He compared it to British Columbia asking Alaska to shut down a major portion of its economy. Lynn had worked to come up with a different statement.

“Rather than try to tell Canada what specific mining policy they need, I think we should make a recommendation on the science, reducing risk of dam tailing failures, sustaining fisheries in both countries, monitoring and recommending that a plan be developed and a way forward that begins to reduce the risk on both current and future operations,” Lynn said.

Petersburg’s assembly has also passed resolutions and letters on the topic in 2014, 2017 and 2019. This one seeks to hold mining companies responsible for clean up of polluting mine, like the Mount Polley mine in central British Columbia or Tulsequah Chief mine near a tributary of the Taku River.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci supported the resolution because of the importance of the fishing industry to Petersburg’s economy.

“I would hate to have a mining accident up one of these rivers have some kind of impact to these local communities and we are just kind of hanging on by a thread with the small boat commercial fisheries and the big boat commercial fisheries,” Meucci said.

The vote was 5-2 in favor of the resolution, with Lynn and mayor Mark Jensen voting no.

KFSK - Petersburg

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