I am deeply disappointed in the Sept. 18 decision by the Juneau Assembly to put off a resolution asking for federal involvement in our transboundary river management. The decision seems to be based solely on a letter sent by Mike Satre, an executive with Hecla Greens Creek Mine. In the letter Mr. Satre claims that the resolution is “rife with inaccuracies” and that it simply “perpetuates anti-mining sentiment,” both of which are flagrantly untrue.
In his letter, Mr. Satre claims that the Assembly should focus their support on the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between British Columbia and Alaska instead of asking for federal help or risk sending a message that the state does not want to be involved. This is in direct contradiction of the wording of the MOU itself and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s statements that “Our proceeding with the MOU is in no way a rejection of that effort.”
Since the MOU was signed we have seen little change in some of the most pressing issues. This non-binding agreement has not resulted in stopping the Tulsequah Chief Mine from leaching toxic waste into the Taku River nor has it stopped Imperial Metals from using the same technology as the failed Mount Polley dam for a waste holding facility above the Stikine River.
Asking for federal involvement does not eliminate the participation of the state. As a member of the working group on transboundary issues, as was I, Mr. Satre knows that involving an International Joint Commission, as recommended in the resolution, would not preclude the MOU which is a non-binding agreement. Involving the federal government will increase the amount of resources available to help protect our economy and lifestyle.
The letter also falsely claims that the Boundary Waters treaty was meant only for waters that “lay parallel to boarders such as the Great Lakes,” a claim that he had previously made to the legislature and on which he was corrected. The Boundary Waters treaty does address issues of pollution in transboundary rivers as expressly stated in the Treaty itself at Article IV, “It is further agreed that the waters herein defined as boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.”
The resolution is not ‘anti-mining’ as Mr. Satre claims; rather it asks for increased protections for those of us who rely on clean water for our health and incomes. A disaster like that which happened when, in 2014 a tailings dam failed at Mount Polley, would be catastrophic to our fish and clean water, causing harm far into the future, if not forever. It is because of this that we ask that we utilize every tool available to ensure that we can thrive together.
As an executive at Hecla Greens Creek Mine, Mr. Satre has an obvious bias, working for a mine that is responsible for contaminating parts of Hawk Inlet. Asking for an additional level of protection is no more anti-mining that requiring seat belts is anti-automobile. This type of mining is dangerous to nearby wildlife and communities as evidenced by research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As noted in the Federal Register the “EPA’s review of available data indicates abundant evidence that hardrock mining facilities continue to pose risks associated with the management of hazardous substances at their sites.”
Why would an executive from Greens Creek, a regional mine, intervene in the public process around a transboundary resolution that has the support of many other communities such as Sitka and Ketchikan? The protection and management of our transboundary rivers is of paramount importance and we do not have time to argue over these false claims. When the issue next is addressed, possibly at the Oct. 23 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Assembly should listen to truth and honesty, and discount those who continue to spread misinformation despite the obvious facts.
• Guy Archibald is the mining and clean water coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.