My Turn: Canadian mine poses threat to the Taku River watershed

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2001

Just 40 miles northeast of Juneau, a small Canadian mining company known as Redcorp Ventures, plans to reopen the Tulsequah Chief Mine and to construct a nearly 100-mile access road straight through the heart of the Taku River watershed. The mine and road will be the focus of an important public meeting in Juneau on Wednesday, Dec. 5 at the Baranof Hotel's Treadwell Room from 7-10 p.m. With Canada's lax public participation process, this will be the only opportunity for Juneau citizens to speak publicly to the governments and agencies involved in reviewing this mine proposal. Please plan to attend and speak out to protect habitat for fish, wildlife and birds, and to protect million-dollar fisheries and the families who depend on wild salmon. If British Columbia gets this mine, Alaskans get the shaft.

With more than 69 stream crossings and 200 culverts, the 100-mile access road will damage Alaska water quality and harm the five species of wild salmon traversing Alaskan waters to spawn in Canada. The current mine design includes plans to dump mine tailings directly upstream from Shazah and Flannigan Sloughs, two highly productive fish rearing areas. These sloughs are prone to flooding, heavy snowfall, avalanches, and earthquakes. Recent water quality data collected by the Douglas Indian Association indicates the old Tulsequah Chief mine continues to leach acid and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, copper and zinc into the Taku and Tulsequah Rivers in amounts exceeding Alaska's water quality standards and in levels that can harm fish populations. If the province can't clean up the existing pollution from the old mine, how can we rely on it to control pollution from the new one?

The world-class Taku River watershed contains some of the richest wildlife habitat in North America, supporting large populations of wild salmon, grizzly and black bears, wolves, sheep, moose, caribou, mountain goat and migratory birds. In fact, the Taku also has one of the largest salmon runs in both Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. Usually, it's among the top five salmon producers in the state. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaskan fishermen catch more than 2 million fish from the Taku River annually, with a value of more than $10 million. The Taku is also home to healthy populations of steelhead trout, cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden, and eulachon. The resource values of healthy fish and wildlife populations are far too valuable to be put at risk by such a short-sighted and damaging project.

For the past several years, U.S. federal agencies, Gov. Tony Knowles, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, fishermen, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, Alaska Natives, community members, and conservationists on both sides of the border have raised serious concerns about the impacts of the mine and road on the watershed and Alaska's fisheries and water quality. The governor and former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt requested development of a watershed plan and an impartial project review by the International Joint Commission, created by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty. Canada, however, continues to balk at a bi-national, impartial scientific review. British Columbia bureaucrats are forging ahead with this harmful mine project despite the many outstanding concerns of all affected parties. The fate of the Taku hangs in the balance.

Don't let a Canadian mine ruin the Taku River's healthy salmon fishery and Juneau's extraordinary backyard wilderness. Please attend the public meeting, ask the hard questions, and speak out to safeguard a wild Taku.

Sarah Keeney is the water quality/mining organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

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