It’s not always necessary to try and reinvent the wheel when solving a difficult or complex problem. Sometimes, you just need to look around and find out what solutions have worked for others facing the same conundrum.
This approach to problem solving is one of the reasons the Juneau World Affairs Council chose to focus on British Columbia and the Yukon during a series of forums held at the University of Alaska Southeast’s campus this week.
JWAC President Jim Clark billed the forum as not only an opportunity for Juneauites to get reacquainted with their neighbors to the west, but also as an opportunity to share ideas and experiences when it comes to issues affecting our region, such as education, natural resource management and industry, to name a few.
The similarities between Juneau and western Canada are abundant. We both have similar renewable and nonrenewable resources that need managing, Native issues dealing with subsistence that often are at the forefront of conversations when it comes to wildlife management, and we both are home to small, isolated communities that share similar weather and the need for affordable energy. In short, we’re not as different as one might think.
The forum was about more than sharing ideas, however. A key element of the forum was to create a cooperative bridge between our culture and theirs through conversations that, hopefully, will lead to better policy and practices on both sides. This is important for Southeast Alaskans for a number of reasons.
It wasn’t that long ago, in 2010 to be exact, when our state government issued a letter to British Columbia officials in referencing one of their mines that was dispensing acidic mine drainage into the Taku Inlet, one of our most prized and productive salmon fisheries. To our knowledge the state never heard back from our Canadian neighbors.
The company that once ran the Tulsequah Chief Mine went bankrupt in 2009, followed by the removal of the wastewater treatment plant that prevented sulfuric acid from leaching heavy metals such as zinc, copper, cadmium and arsenic into the river. The hazardous elements flowed down the Taku River, eventually emptying into our waterways.
Current mine owner Chieftain restarted the water treatment facility in 2011 only to discontinue it a year later because of budget constraints, leaving the mine in non-compliance with Canada’s Waste Water Discharge Permit. Once again, dangerous minerals were being unleashed into our waterways.
Concerns have been voiced by several environmental groups that the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine near Ketchikan, which is currently undergoing permitting in British Columbia, could do the same to our ecosystems.The KSM mine has the potential to be one of the largest mines in the world. That also means that if not managed properly, it could be one of the most environmentally destructive, as well. A story in Friday’s Empire (http://juneauempire.com/outdoors/2013-10-18/groups-bcs-proposed-ksm-mine...) reported that the KSM mine would need to treat nearly 119,000 gallons of water per minute. That water will end up in the Unuk River. Once in the river, we all know where the treated water will end up: in Southeast Alaska streams, rivers and tributaries.
There hasn’t always been an open dialogue between Alaska and Canada, but that doesn’t have to be the way we continue to do business with our neighbor. The Juneau World Affairs Forum is an opportunity for those of us in Southeast Alaska and western Canada to not only learn from one another, but also an opportunity to learn and work together with one another on issues that will affect us both. That’s what the Juneau World Affairs Council is trying to do, and we commend them for it. Through cooperation and a mutual understanding we can forge a better future for everyone.