More than 60 fishermen, environmentalists, Tlingit and Haida Central Council representatives and concerned citizens packed the Silverbow Inn’s Backroom Wednesday night to hear about the potential impact some British Columbia mines may have on Southeast Alaska fisheries and tourism.
Though speakers referenced several BC mines on transboundary rivers, the majority of the meeting focused on Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, also known as KSM. KSM is a proposed mine currently undergoing permitting in BC. It would be one of the largest mines in the world once operational.
Seabridge Gold, the company behind the mine, said proven and probable reserves at the site total about 38 million ounces of gold and 10 billion pounds of copper. The mine would also likely produce 133 million ounces of silver and more than 200 million pounds of molybdenum. They expect it to be operational for 52 years.
The mine is proposed for a site on the Unuk River, which flows into the Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan. The Unuk River supports all five species of salmon, including a large number of kings. It’s also important for hooligan.
Speakers said the mine’s massive amounts of water requiring treatment, sludge, tailings, rock and processing would be a “looming train wreck” for Southeast Alaska fisheries and tourism.
They also said there’s a lack of objective data — all studies on the area, said Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Mining and Clean Water Project Coordinator Guy Archibald, were carried out by KSM, not by an impartial government agency.
“The first thing we need is some baseline water quality data on these rivers,” he said, referring to other mines as well. “Right now we’re relying on what the companies are telling us.”
That would happen with state allocation of money for “scientifically accurate and defensible” studies. Archibald said it’s important that the federal government get involved, specifically the State Department, in order to communicate more effectively across the border.
Archibald went over various facts about KSM, and stated the operation would mine 130,000 tons per day, or 5,670 tons per hour. It would require treating just under 119,000 gallons of water per minute before releasing it into the Unuk River. They expect to treat the water for at least 200 years.
Seventy-one percent of the 3 billion tons of waste rock expected to be produced by the mine is known to be acid-producing, he said. The mine would also produce 2 billion tons of tailings over its projected life, and about 75,000 tons of sludge per year, dwarfing the Kensington and Greens Creek mines, which he said produce around 5,000.
“Alaska has nothing to gain by this mine,” Archibald said. “We’re only going to get contamination from it.”
Seabridge Gold did not return calls requesting comment by deadline.
The company’s Environmental Effects Summary stated that “the project has the potential to degrade surface water quality” in Sulphurets Creek and the Unuk River.
“Prediction of the amount of metals uptake and the toxicological implications of potentially increased residues of Se (selenium) and other metal residues in fish tissues is uncertain, as are the threshold concentrations necessary to trigger toxic effects,” the report stated.
The report added they will “address these uncertainties by providing for ongoing monitoring and adaptive management.” They also plan to construct replacement habitat for areas “lost due to deposition of deleterious substances.” They rank selenium’s residual effect on fish as a “moderate” risk, but also stated “any residual cumulative effects will be minor.” Overall, according to the report, effects on fish and fish habitat are expected to be minimal.
Speakers emphasized that after mining, the site could need monitoring “in perpetuity” and questioned the resilience of several of the structures it plans to hold tailings and other byproducts.
“This is a long-term, very large issue of transboundary impacts,” said seiner and speaker Bruce Wallace, past president on the executive committee of the United Fishermen of Alaska.
Rob Sanderson Jr., vice president of Tlingit and Haida Central Council and vice chairman of the Ketchikan Indian Community, called for Alaska tribes to get involved and begin a dialogue with British Columbia first nations.
Sanderson said he “can’t even put it into words how colossal this project is, and the harm it may cause us here in Southeast Alaska. Fishermen really need to be concerned.”
At least one BC Native group has already expressed an opinion in public comment: In a letter dated Sept. 4, the Gitxsan Treaty Society said they support the project, both due to the mine representatives’ “open, honest and transparent” interactions with the Gitxsan Nation, and the jobs and economic benefits they expect the mine to provide. KSM expects to employ 1,040 people at the site once the mine is operational.
BC’s Environmental Assessment Office is soliciting comments on the mine until Monday, Oct. 21.
Speakers were also concerned, however, with the EAO itself. Rivers Without Borders Alaska Campaign Director Chris Zimmer said BC has recently seen “very severe” reductions in fisheries and environmental regulations.
A July 2011 report from British Columbia’s auditor general found significant issues with the EAO, and stated conditions and commitments for environmental assessment certificates should be “measurable and enforceable.”
“Because this does not happen consistently, the Environmental Assessment Office cannot assure British Columbians that the conditions and commitments stated in the environmental assessment certificate are being met,” said Auditor General John Doyle in a media release about the report. “Adequate monitoring and enforcement of certified projects is not occurring and follow-up evaluations are not being conducted. We also found that information currently being provided to the public is not sufficient to ensure accountability.”
In an Oct. 2012 self assessment, the EAO said they had made the reported problems a “top priority,” “addressing and going beyond” the report’s recommendations.
Responding to questions on behalf of the EAO, the BC Ministry of Environment said the EAO has now “fully or substantially implemented” all six main recommendations.
The Ministry also said more than 100 people attended an open house Seabridge held in Ketchikan on Oct. 5 2011.
Speakers at the Juneau meeting urged audience members to comment before Oct. 21. The Ministry of Environment said Seabridge will need to respond to issues raised in comments “to the satisfaction of the Environmental Assessment Office.”
Speakers also urged concerned Southeast residents to contact legislative representatives and the State Department.
“Of course anyone has a right to develop their resources, but they have to do it in a way that doesn’t affect their neighbor in a negative fashion,” Zimmer said. “This is definitely not an issue that’s just for the environmentalists or just for fishermen … (it’s for) anybody that has an interest in clean water, fish, moose, a healthy Southeast ecosystem. I think this is one of those rare issues that unites all of us.”
The meeting was hosted by Rivers Without Borders and Trout Unlimited.
• Contact Outdoors reporter Mary Catharine Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trout Unlimited is gathering comments online at: http://americansalmonforest.org/ksm-comment-form.
The executive summary of the environmental assessment, as well as various ways to make comments, are available here: http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/document-eng.cfm?document=93908.
Existing comments and other information can be found here: http://a100.gov.bc.ca/appsdata/epic/html/deploy/epic_project_home_322.html.
Trout Unlimited has compiled a list of concerns: http://americansalmonforest.org/transboundary-issues.
Rivers Without Borders: http://riverswithoutborders.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/KSM-Briefing-....
The KSM section of Seabridge’s website can be found online at: http://seabridgegold.net/ksm.php.
They also have a website just for KSM: http://ksmproject.com.
The BC Auditor General’s report and the EAO’s self-assessment are available here: http://www.bcauditor.com/pubs/2011/report4/audit-bc-environmental-assess....