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Guest Commentary: The pollution continues at Tulsequah Chief mine

Updated: May 23, 2023

The Petersburg Pilot published a 5/4/23 editorial that summarizes the situation with the Taku watershed’s Tulsequah Chief mine. British Columbia’s mines ministry continues to move in the right direction toward finally getting the notorious abandoned mine that has been polluting the Taku for decades closed and cleaned up, but it’s doing so at a slow pace. The editorial asks the State of Alaska, bearing the downstream toxic consequences of this pollution, to in turn step up its pressure on the provincial government for action. It’s time!

See full text below:


May 4, 2023

The Taku River is usually the most productive wild salmon river in Southeast Alaska and one of the most prolific on the west coast of North America that is also vitally important to Petersburg and other Southeast Alaskan fishermen and processors. For over 60 years the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine has been spewing toxic acid mine drainage into the Taku River watershed. For over 20 years Alaska Tribes, fishermen, elected leaders, tourism operators and many others have been fighting to get the British Columbia (B.C.) government to close down and clean up this toxic mess. In 2015 then B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett went to Juneau and promised to clean up the mine site. Unfortunately, eight years later the pollution continues. In 2019 B.C. produced a draft conceptual cleanup plan, but that plan is still a draft, and it is unclear how and when it will be finalized. Despite the clear consensus on both sides of the border that the mine must be cleaned up, B.C. continues to drag its feet. While it is good to see B.C. agree that the mine must be closed and remediated, Alaskans are very frustrated at B.C.’s slow pace, lack of information and lack of a role for Alaskans. We currently have no seat at the table. In fact, frustrations increased after a visit to Juneau by B.C. officials in early March. According to a March 9 Juneau Empire story, “Visiting Canadian officials said the appropriate things and listened respectfully during a three-day visit with political and Alaska Native leaders in Juneau this week, but the bottom line for many of the people they met with is the long-abandoned Tulsequah Chief Mine is still a toxic nightmare that’s taking far too long to clean up.” Those officials paid, what has become, the usual lip service to Tulsequah Chief by repeating the standard minimally persuasive language that the province is committed to cleanup. But they provided no information on when the cleanup plan would be finalized, when real cleanup would start, the schedule, funding plan, or how Alaskans would be involved in the planning and cleanup. Worse yet, these officials directly contradicted what we had already been told by B.C. During a phone call with B.C. officials on October 12, 2022 we were told that the cleanup plan would be finalized in 2023, that there would be a process for Alaskans to be involved in this and that real cleanup would start in 2023. However, when asked about these commitments in a meeting on March 8, B.C. assistant deputy minister for Energy Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Andrew Rollo said he had no knowledge of any engagement plan for Alaskans and that he could not say when actual cleanup would start. More broken promises to add to the long list already from B.C. It was good to see Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune say, “We ask them at every meeting about that, and we are constantly pushing, and the timeline for that historic mine to be cleaned up can’t be soon enough.” However, the State seems unwilling to ask tough questions or demand answers or ensure that Alaskans, especially Tribes, have a role in the planning and cleanup. There is no truly effective seat at the table at these meetings for Alaskans. Juneau State Rep. Sara Hannan told the Empire, “They’ve not invited our tribes to the table. They’ve not included us in their dialogues. They’ve not shared their minutes of their meetings publicly, so although they contend, they have very regular working group meetings making progress, that progress is in isolation from the fishermen and the communities that are the most active and most concerned.” According to the Empire, Commissioner Brune and B.C. officials were “arguing they’re doing everything that’s realistically possible in terms of Tulsequah cleanup and responsibly acting on other projects.” However most Alaskans would probably disagree and would like to see the State take a more aggressive stance. Commissioner Brune and the B.C. officials also rejected the call to elevate the issue to the national level, by contending that regional-level interactions between Alaska, British Columbia and Alaska Native Tribes are making progress. According to Commissioner Brune, “I’m a big fan of the state having control of our processes.” Unfortunately, Alaska has little control here as the mine is in B.C., so the cleanup is a B.C-led process moving very slowly and providing very few details as to what concrete progress B.C. has actually accomplished to date. The State of Alaska needs to join with the rest of Alaskans in more aggressively defending our salmon and water quality and spend a bit less time acquiescing to B.C.’s painfully slow efforts to halt the ongoing pollution of the Taku River watershed. Brian Lynch Rivers Without Borders Petersburg

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