alaska

B.C. Minister Bennett’s Visit Fails to Ease Alaskans’ Mining Concerns

Bill Bennett

Promises of a closer relationship between B.C. and Alaska and more consultation on B.C. mine applications are a good start, but, so far, Southeast Alaska has no more guarantees that those mines will not pollute salmon-bearing rivers than before this week’s visit by B.C.’s Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, say Alaskan fishing and conservation groups.

Bennett, accompanied by senior civil servants from the ministries of Energy and Mines and Environment, took a conciliatory tone as he met with state officials, policy-makers and critics of what is seen as an aggressive push by B.C. to develop mines in the transboundary area, close to vitally important salmon rivers such as the Unuk, Taku and Stikine.

I understand why people feel so strongly about protecting what they have,” Bennett said in a Juneau news conference with Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott.

There’s a way of life here that has tremendous value and the people here don’t want to lose it. I get that,” he said.

But promises of a strengthened dialogue and more opportunities to comment on mine applications fall far short of a growing chorus of Alaskan demands that the issue be referred to the International Joint Commission, formed under the Boundary Waters Treaty, which forbids either country from polluting transboundary waters.

Living Downstream of B.C.’s Gold Rush: Alaska’s Fishermen Fear End of ‘Last Wild Frontier’

Taku Inlet

No fish in the car, warned the rental car attendant at Juneau airport, with the weary tone of someone who had cleaned too many fish guts out of returned vehicles. It was a warning underlined by signs in hotels pleading with guests not to clean fish in the hotel bathrooms.

Fishing is in the DNA of Southeast Alaskans, not only as a sport and common way of filling the freezer, but also as a driver of the state economy. So it is not surprising that the perceived threat presented by a rush of mine applications on the B.C. side of the border has brought together diverse groups who want B.C. to give Alaska an equal seat at the decision-making table and to have the issue referred for review to the International Joint Commission.

I can’t conceive of not being able to fish for salmon. The grief would be too much to fathom,” said Heather Hardcastle, co-owner of Taku River Reds who has been commercial fishing for most of her life.

We share these waters and we share these fish. There has to be an international solution,” she said.

Alaska Fishing Community Spurred to Action by Mount Polley Spill

Wrangell, Alaska, wharf

Wrangell, Alaska — A fishing boat chugs across the water in front of the patio at Wrangell’s Stikine Inn, temporarily disrupting dinner conversation as residents of the tiny Southeast Alaska town tuck into heaped plates of rockfish and chips.

At the next table, where a group of friends are celebrating an 80th birthday, the talk is all about the next day’s fishing plans. The new salmon smoker is working well, there were more than 40 crabs in the pots yesterday and everyone wants to be out on the water before 9 a.m. tomorrow because there are king salmon to be caught.

Commercial and sports fishing fill the freezers and wallets of Wrangell residents but, out of mind for many of them, behind the shield of the Coast Mountains, lurks a threat that could annihilate the area’s fishing and tourism-based economy.

Shell To Proceed With Arctic Drilling Despite Damaged Icebreaker Ship Carrying Critical Emergency Gear Heading To Portland For Repairs

Shell officials are still hoping to launch exploratory drilling this month at the company’s Burger prospect, 70 miles off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, even though a key ship in its fleet was forced back to port before it had even left the harbor last week after a 3-foot-long gash was discovered in its hull.

The company has to send the MSV Fennica to Portland because Terminal 5 at the port of Seattle, where Shell’s two drilling rigs were stored before they departed for Alaska, is a cargo terminal that doesn’t allow heavy repairs.

It is expected to take several weeks to repair the Fennica, according to FuelFix. The trip to Portland alone will take more than a week, and the Fennica appears to still be in Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands right now. But Shell has already begun moving its fleet into place in the Chukchi Sea, and does not plan on waiting for the Fennica to return before commencing drilling activities.

Will a Century-Old Treaty Protect Alaska's Salmon Rivers from B.C.'s Mining Boom?

Southeast Alaskans, anxious about B.C.'s mining boom along the Alaskan border, are pinning their hopes for stronger mine management on a treaty that dates back more than a century.

The International Joint Commission (IJC), operating under the Boundary Waters Treaty since 1909, is a body with six appointed members —three from Canada and three from the U.S. — used to resolve water or air conflicts between the two countries.

However, although the commission appears to be tailor-made to deal with the concern over B.C. mines in the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most important salmon rivers, politicians on both side of the border appear reluctant to hand over responsibility to a commission whose recommendations remain entirely independent of either party.

'It’s the New Wild West': Alaskans Leery As B.C. Pushes For 10 Mines in Transboundary Salmon Watersheds

Iskut

Long-held perceptions of Canada as a country with strict environmental standards and B.C. as a province that values natural beauty are taking a near-fatal beating in Southeast Alaska, where many now regard Canadians as bad neighbours who are unilaterally making decisions that could threaten the region’s two major economic drivers.

Fishing and tourism — each billion-dollar industries — are the lifeblood of Southeast Alaska, where glaciers sweep down into rivers home to five species of wild salmon and massive snow-covered peaks tower over fertile wetlands.

Tourism accounts for 10,900 jobs in the Alaska Panhandle and salmon fishing employs 7,300 people.

Air and water are the only ways into communities such as Juneau, the state capital, and almost seven million hectares, or three-quarters of Southeast Alaska, are within the Tongass National Forest, where industrial activity is limited.

But, upstream, in northwest B.C., there is a new-style gold rush with an unprecedented number of applications for open-pit gold and copper mines, some made viable by construction of the Northwest Transmission Line and all requiring road access.

Shell’s Renewed Arctic Drilling Campaign Faces Yet Another Setback As Key Ship Forced Back To Port

Is Shell finally “Arctic Ready” after its doomed 2012 campaign? The company is set to begin drilling in the Arctic within the week, and it’s already not looking good.

The MSV Fennica, an icebreaker vessel bound for the Chukchi Sea, had barely left its berth in Dutch Harbor, Alaska last Friday when it had to immediately turn around. The crew discovered a 39-inch long, half-inch-wide breach in the Fennica’s hull, FuelFix reports.

California State of Emergency: Up To 105,000 Gallons of Oil Spill in Santa Barbara from Plains All American Pipeline

Up to 105,000 gallons of oil obtained via offshore drilling have spilled from a pipeline owned by Plains All American at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County in California. At least 21,000 gallons have poured into the Pacific Ocean and the spill's impacts stretch nine miles, according to the Associated Press.

Shell Faces Shareholder Backlash Over Arctic Drilling

ShellNo by Brendan DeMelle

Shell’s chief executive Ben van Beurden was grilled at the oil company's annual general meeting (AGM) today on its controversial plans to drill in the Arctic.

Pressure came from environmental activists, indigenous leaders and key institutional investors, including APG Asset Management and Dutch asset management firm Robeco, who all questioned the high risk, high cost of Arctic drilling.

Climate change remained a prominent theme throughout the five-hour meeting, culminating with shareholders voting nearly 99 percent in favour of a resolution that will force Shell to consider the possibility of a 2°C world in its forecasting.

Alaskans Ring Alarm Bells Over Potential for More Mount Polley Disasters As B.C. Pushes Forward With New Mines

Worried Alaskans who fear lucrative fisheries and tourism industries are at risk from lax B.C. oversight of mine safety are meeting with state officials next week to ask the U.S. State Department to push for more input on mine development along the border of northwest B.C. and southeast Alaska.

We are calling for an equal seat at the table. We want equal representation on the part of Americans and Alaskans when it comes to how these watersheds are developed,” said Heather Hardcastle, a commercial salmon fisher based in Juneau.

We take all the risks and the costs and get none of the benefits.”

Hardcastle is a member of a coalition of Alaskan mayors, First Nations, businessmen and fishers who were horrified by the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse last August. Their concerns were exacerbated by last week’s provincial government report that found a weak foundation and design were responsible for the failure that saw an estimated 25 million cubic metres of waste water and toxic sludge flood from the copper and gold mine’s tailings pond into rivers and lakes.

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