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Alaska tribes urge action on transboundary mining

'I always say, when one of those tailings (ponds) goes, it's going to ruin our way of life in southeast Alaska'

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Federal lawmakers have been urged by tribes and local conservation groups to address transboundary mining, which some consider a threat to southeast Alaska. 

Transboundary mining is when runoff from a mine in one country pollutes water that eventually flows into another country.

The dams in Canada holding back toxic wastewater from the mining process have failed before in 2014 when the Mount Polly Mine in British Columbia spilled millions of gallons of industrial waste into nearby waterways in Alaska, the Juneau Empire reported.

"I always say, when one of those tailings (ponds) goes it's going to ruin our way of life in southeast Alaska," said Tis Peterman, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission. "It's going to ruin the ocean, salmon, subsistence, hunting and gathering, that will all be affected."

Peterman and other conservationists say the problem is because of lax environmental regulation by the provincial government of British Columbia in Canada.

"B.C. does not adequately assess risk when permitting," said Salmon Beyond Borders director Jill Weitz, who recently published a scientific article urging the governments in both countries to find solutions to problems stemming from transboundary mining.

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The letter claims the British Columbia government has allowed mining companies to operate with little oversight and cites a permit given to Canadian mining company Teck Resources Limited.

"Teck's Elk Valley permit allows up to 65 times above scientifically established protective threshold for fish," the letter said.

Teck Resources Limited is committed to implementing a water quality plan, company spokesperson Chris Stannell said.

"We have invested $437 million to implement the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan to date, with a further $640-690 million of investment estimated over the next five years to implement water treatment, monitoring and research," Stannell said.

The Canadian Consul's office did not immediately respond to request for contact.

Weitz, Peterman, Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and others supported the letter urging federal lawmakers to take action despite their attention being drawn toward combating the spread of COVID-19.

"The mines are still going on now," Peterman said. "We don't want people to forget they're still a threat to our way of life."