Alaska Natives, environmentalists and fishery owners, spooked by recent mining accidents and proposals in neighboring British Columbia, have asked the province to tighten regulations, according to a report by the Canadian Press.
Recent mining accidents such as the Polley Mine spill—in which a tailings dam burst and sent billions of gallons of mining waste into pristine B.C. waterways—are not exactly engendering trust in neighboring southwest Alaska.
A conference with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Anchorage drew tribal leaders and salmon conservationists on December 3 to discuss potential risks to the fishing and tourism industries in Alaska, the Canadian Press reported.
“Conference delegates called on the U.S. State Department to use the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty to activate the International Joint Commission, hold boundary dispute hearings and discuss the important salmon waterways, the communities they support and the risks they face from potential mine contamination,” the Canadian Press said.
A month ago Bill Bennett, British Columbia’s minister of Energy and Mines, went to Anchorage to try and alleviate concerns, The Globe and Mail reported. But it seemed more like public-relations damage control than an actual plan for doing things better, according to one observer.
"He was trying to tamp down some of the bad press over the Mount Polley tailings disaster," said Guy Archibald, a spokesman for the southeast Alaska Conservation Council who spoke to the Canadian Press just before giving an address at the BIA conference this past weekend. "He basically equated what happened at Imperial Metals Mount Polley mine to a large avalanche. That's the kind of rhetoric that really worries people in southeast Alaska."
Alaskans may not be immune to the work of such companies even if they stay on the B.C. side of the border and make their standards more stringent. As it turns out, the company that designed the tailings pond that breached at Mount Polley was hired for the same purpose at Pebble Mine, which is being fought in the Bristol Bay region.