Taku's riches are its fishery, not another mining venture

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2010

News that an unidentified buyer wants to reopen the Tulsequah Chief Mine should be of grave concern to Alaska's citizens and the current administration. In 1957, Canadian mining company Cominco (now known as Teck) abandoned the Tulsequah Chief operation without a proper cleanup. Cominco left behind vast amounts of tailings and waste rock that continue to cause acid mine drainage to flow into the Tulsequah River and thence down the Taku River into Alaska. Canadian government documents indicate that acid mine drainage from the abandoned mine is acutely toxic to fish.

The Taku watershed is the largest salmon-producing river system in Southeast Alaska. It supports big runs of all five species of Pacific salmon. An economic study by the McDowell Group in 2004 found that the Taku's commercial and recreational fisheries are worth more than $8 million annually to the communities of Juneau and Atlin, British Columbia, Despite multiple clean-up orders from Canadian agencies, neither Cominco nor the subsequent Canadian owners of the Tulsequah Chief Mine have abated the toxic pollution flowing from the mine site.

The Governor should move promptly to engage British Columbia in negotiations to bring an end to the pollution emanating from the Tulsequah Chief Mine and also to jump-start a transboundary watershed planning process built on science and an honest accounting of all cultural and resource values on both sides of the border.

British Columbia's Premier Gordon Campbell has demonstrated a willingness to work with his U.S. neighbors. British Columbia and Montana recently concluded an historic agreement that will protect their adjoining Flathead River basin from dubious mining proposals. Alaska deserves equal treatment. Unlike Montana, which was concerned with mere threats of impacts to the Flathead River, Alaska has already suffered decades of acid mine drainage into the Taku River.

The fact that federal and provincial laws and regulation, and even the Boundary Waters Treaty itself, have done nothing to abate more than 50 years of pollution from Tulsequah Chief is proof positive that mining in the lower Taku is a bad idea. While overall the watershed and its prized fishery are still in great shape, it's obvious that digging up more acid generating rock will only produce more acid mine drainage to the detriment of salmon and the people who actually live in the area. Enough is enough. The Taku's riches are its fishery, not another irresponsible, short-term mining venture.

Daniel Fitzgerald


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