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My Turn: Taku Task Force and river barging

Posted: October 31, 2011 - 11:00pm

Taku gillnetter Jev Shelton in July wrote that a public forum was needed to address issues related to the Taku, its fisheries and its possible use as an industrial highway for mines in British Columbia. Since then the three members of the Juneau legislative delegation have convened a citizens’ task force to address these issues and provide accurate, publicly-available information about the Taku. This task force is very timely and I thank our legislators for establishing it.

I hear some people in Juneau saying that there is no more threat of the kind of dangerous river barging conducted by now-bankrupt Redfern Resources in 2007 and 2008 or of the hoverbarge proposal. It is true that the hoverbarge proposal is dead. It is also true that the new owner of the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine, Chieftain Metals, is focusing on a proposed access road. However, the company plans to conduct extensive river barging for at least the next couple of years to support construction activities at the mine.

The company hopes to have an access road in place in 2014, but this seems unlikely. Chieftain has not obtained permits, funding or approval from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. The Tlingit have expressed a clear preference for river barging instead of an access road. The recent Land Use Plan agreement between the Tlingit and B.C. government states, “To the Tulsequah Valley, the preferred access is by barge via the Taku River.”

It seems extremely optimistic for Chieftain to expect the road to be finished in 2014 and the company is likely to be barging for additional seasons well beyond 2014. Chieftain CEO Victor Wyprysky recently told an Atlin resident that some level of barging would also be required throughout the operation of the mine even with the proposed access road.

Similar, but much less frequent, barging by Redfern in 2007 and 2008 demonstrated the potential for accidents, spills, groundings and habitat damage and raised concerns from fishermen, Taku property owners and many others in Juneau. Yet, Alaska’s fisheries managers do not have any regulatory or oversight mechanisms to ensure that the increased level of barging proposed by Chieftain will not damage salmon habitat.

The Taku Task Force is a good forum to get this information on the table, review the potential issues related to upriver industrial development in B.C. and discuss ways to ensure the long-term productivity of the Taku. I know our delegation is getting increasingly busy as we move toward the start of the session and it has been difficult to schedule the task force meetings due to the various schedules of all involved. However, I urge the delegation to take the time necessary to fully investigate and address these issues.

Wild salmon are a tremendous resource for Alaska, providing food, livelihoods, recreation and culture. Alaska’s salmon managers are some of the best in the world, ensuring that habitat remains productive, the salmon runs are healthy and the fisheries are sustainable.

But, in the transboundary region of Northwest British Columbia and Southeast Alaska a large portion of rivers such as the Taku and Stikine are in B.C. and we are dependent on B.C. to properly manage that habitat. Alaska is doing a good job of managing habitat in the transboundary region, but we need more information from and engagement with B.C. to ensure that the upriver habitat also remains productive. I believe that the task force can help accomplish this worthy goal.

• Maas is a Juneau resident and the largest property owner on the Taku River. He owns 160 acres south of the Taku Lodge and has a residence with his wife on this property. From 1971 to 1992, he and his wife owned and operated the Taku Lodge.

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