Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly on Monday will consider a resolution calling for Canadian regulators to pause permitting, development and expansion of mines upstream from rivers that flow from Canada into Southeast Alaska. The resolution would also urge a permanent ban on mine tailings dams along transboundary rivers.
Frederick Olsen Jr. is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, a coalition of 15 federally recognized tribes. On Thursday, Olsen spoke during an online discussion hosted by Salmon Beyond Borders regarding transboundary mines.
“As we’re speaking right now, the Taku River watershed is being polluted by the Tulsequah Chief Mine. This has been going on since the 1950s when the mine stopped operation, and this is a this is a cautionary tale of what we’re talking about.”
The site is leaking pollutants into the Taku River near Juneau. Olsen also cited the 2014 tailings dam break at B.C.’s Mount Polley Mine. He says every mining operation is temporary, but when it closes, the tailing dams are left behind.
Olsen says in 2019, British Columbia passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s Act.
“Two years have gone by and there’s still no mechanism for our Alaska tribes to get involved in this system. And that’s one of the reasons we’re asking for this pause. The rules have changed on the ground, but the government is still trying to play the same game.”
Ketchikan’s federally-recognized tribe has also been vocally supportive of the measure.
A draft resolution presented by Assembly Members David Landis and Austin Otos at the assembly’s last meeting did not include a ban on tailings dams. The assembly voted 5-2 to include the it in the next draft. Landis and Assembly Member Jeremy Bynum opposed the revision.
Now, the borough manager’s office has come out against the request for a ban on tailings dams after a resident wrote in with concerns. Borough officials say they’re concerned a ban could restrict future mining projects on Prince of Wales Island, which the assembly has supported. They’re recommending the assembly pass a substitute resolution that removes references to tailings dams.
In other business, a hearing is scheduled to consider a request to modify special limitations on a commercial lot to allow a drive-up coffee stand near mile 11 North Tongass Highway. The assembly is also set to approve an agreement with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to allow the Division of Forestry to operate a log transfer facility within the Gravina Island Industrial Complex across from Ward Cove.
Also Monday night the assembly is slated to hear a presentation from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on projects scheduled for Ketchikan, and the Assistant Borough Manager will make a presentation on the borough’s self-insurance fund.
Ketchikan’s borough clerk says that because of COVID-19, cold, and flu outbreaks affecting residents and borough staff, Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly will meet virtually through WebEx online video conferencing. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
Members of the public can weigh in at the beginning of the meeting and during public hearings, but they must contact the borough clerk’s office before 3 p.m. Monday at 228-6605 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The meeting is also live-streamed and available on local cable channels. The complete agenda and information on how to access the video conference are available here.
The WebEx Meeting Number is: 2499 222 0601; Password: 011722Assy!