Bill Bennett, British Columbia’s minister of energy and mines, traveled to Anchorage last week to tell Alaskans what they already know: Fish are important.
Bennett spoke at the Alaska Miners Association conference in part to reassure Alaskans that British Columbia takes mine safety seriously.
Bennett’s message isn’t important — it’s what we expect to hear from someone who works in a government interested in industrial development. What’s more important to Alaskans is the messenger.
When was the last time a British Columbian minister traveled to Alaska in such a prominent way?
The enormous Mount Polley Mine tailings dam failed Aug. 4, spilling millions of gallons of potentially toxic material into the Fraser River watershed. Even before that dam’s collapse, Alaskans had been alarmed about the progress of a series of mammoth mines just over the border from Alaska. The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine, for example, is planned for the headwaters of the Unuk River, which flows across the border and empties into the Pacific Ocean between Wrangell and Ketchikan. Each summer, the Unuk and other transboundary rivers host countless salmon and their eggs. The Mount Polley Mine disaster was a perfect example of Alaskans’ fears come to life.
Bennett told the Miners Association conference that the state of Alaska and province of British Columbia have long worked together on mining issues, and that existing programs already work well to convey Alaskans’ concerns to British Columbia.
Southeast Native groups, commercial fishermen, tourism and environmental groups have banded together to volley their disapproval of KSM and other mines. Bennett’s appearance in Alaska shows this collaborative effort is working.
Earlier this year, the Empire voiced its disapproval of KSM. Like Pebble Mine, we said it is the wrong mine in the wrong place. KSM allows British Columbia to reap the benefits of jobs and industrial development while Alaska shoulders the risk.
This is unacceptable, and Alaskans need to keep up the pressure.
By continuing to voice your disapproval of mines along the border — so-called “transboundary” mines — you are making a difference. At the Empire, we are not against all mines, or even against all transboundary mines. We are against the mines that chain Alaska with risk and no economic reward.
We hope that Alaska’s legislators will see this light as well. We want them to follow your example in speaking out.
Public opinion matters, and by staying informed and staying involved, your voice will matter too.