Alaska Department of Fish and Game image

The proposed KSM Mine in British Columbia near Hyder is working through the Canadian permitting system and could start operating in just a couple of years. As more Southeast Alaska residents become aware of this mining project, more concerns have been raised about the potential effects on this side of the border. Some Southeast Native tribal leaders got together last week to discuss those concerns.

Representatives from 11 Southeast Alaska Native tribes came together to talk about transboundary rivers, and the potential harm that Canadian mining projects could have on Alaska’s ecosystem. The meeting took place in Craig, on Prince of Wales Island, and was hosted by the Organized Village of Kasaan.

John Morris of the Douglas Indian Association was among the participants. He says he’s worried about the long-term effects of mining. He mentioned some mines in the Juneau-Douglas area that have been closed for many years.

“One of the projects we decided to take on was water sampling, soil sampling, from the old mine tailings,” he said. “We started several years ago. What we found out from our testing, that a lot of the old tailings, there is still a lot of arsenic and mercury content there.”

Morris said mines have the potential to harm fish, game and flora as soon as they start operating, and there’s no predicting how long the effects will continue.

Among the proposed Canadian mines close to Alaska’s border, the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine is furthest along in its permitting process. Guy Archibald of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council was traveling with Morris. Archibald compared the KSM Mine to the controversial Pebble Mine, which has been proposed for Alaska’s Bristol Bay area, and says KSM developers themselves have estimated that the effects could last two centuries.

“The projected life span of this mine is 50 years,” he said. “They also project that they’re going to have to have active water treatment for 200 more years. In all likelihood, it will have to be perpetual water treatment – forever.”

Rob Sanderson of Ketchikan attended the summit as one of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council representatives. He said the tribes want to connect with other stakeholders, such as sportfishing groups, and work together to stop the KSM mine.

Even if the mine were operated safely, Sanderson says accidents happen.

“You’re talking two tailing sites, bigger than the Hoover Dam,” he said. “Lord forbid, we live in a seismically active area. We had an earthquake off Craig last winter, over 7-point-something. If one of those tailing sites break open, you can imagine the devastation from those tailings. That would go around Gravina Island. Ketchikan would take a direct hit.”

At the end of the summit, the group came up with a plan of action. Morris said they are forming a committee that will reach out to Alaska and U.S. officials, in hopes that they will intervene with the Canadian government.

The KSM project would extract about 130,000 tons of ore daily from four deposits. Seabridge Gold, the company developing the mine, estimates that the project will operate for about 57 years.

Development plans call for a water treatment facility that will treat all water from mine activity during those 57 years, and for as long as it takes after the mine is closed.

According to the company’s executive summary, the KSM mine will have minor effects on the quality of the river water, minor effects on fish and wildlife, and some lasting effects on surrounding wetlands. The company is supposed to compensate for any negative effects.

Those attending the summit in Craig came from Craig, Kasaan, Klawock, Hydaburg, Ketchikan, Saxman, Metlakatla, Wrangell, Douglas and Central Council Tlingit and Haida. Canadian tribal representatives were supposed to attend, but the flight was canceled due to weather.