B.C.-Alaska hold exploratory talks over Mount Polley tailings breach disaster

VICTORIA – Alaska’s Lt.-Gov. Byron Mallott says he wants to see up close the aftermath of the Mount Polley tailings-pond collapse, including evidence of British Columbia’s commitment to preventing a similar mining disaster.

Mallott was dispatched south by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker to register U.S. concerns about transboundary issues and the threat a mining catastrophe could have on waters flowing into the state. He will tour the central B.C. mine site this week.

“I hope to see a place that is being learned from,” Mallott said Monday after meetings in Victoria with government mining officials, cabinet ministers and Mines’ Minister Bill Bennett.

Mallott said they discussed how to ensure water quality is protected in border areas.

Bennett said Alaska’s political leaders are welcome to visit Mount Polley and tour other mines in the province’s northwest.

“It was an opportunity for us to show how we do things here in B.C., to spell out the details of our processes,” said Bennett.

A second delegation of Alaskans, including First Nations’ leaders, commercial-and-sports fishing organizations and conservation groups will also tour Mount Polley this week.

Last summer’s tailings-pond breach at the gold-and-copper mine spilled 24-million cubic metres of silt and water into nearby waterways and raised concerns from Alaska about B.C.’s mining practices and regulations.

The Red Chris gold-and-copper mine in B.C.’s northwest is located near a watershed that flows downstream to Alaska, and the state government, First Nations, and fishing and conservation groups say they’re worried a similar catastrophe could threaten the salmon industry.

A statement released by Gov. Walker said Mallott will attend a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon and meet with mining industry officials and First Nations.

Mallott is a Tlingit leader and a former mayor of Juneau. He ran for state governor as a Democrat, but during the election joined forces with Walker, who ran for governor as an independent.

Mallott said three of Alaska’s most important salmon rivers, the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk, are in watersheds that could be impacted by Canadian mines.

Vancouver-based Imperial Metals (TSX:Ill) operates Mount Polley and Red Chris, which was granted an interim operating permit three months ago. Imperial Metals has said it could reopen Mount Polley in June if granted a permit.

Bennett, who expects a decision on the Red Chris operating permit by the end of May, said a tour of the mines may give the Alaskans a better sense of how B.C. oversees the industry.

“The more they see the more they can understand our processes and rules and standards,” said Bennett.

Opposition New Democrat mining critic Norm Macdonald said the Mount Polley mine disaster sparked international concerns about B.C.’s mining industry.

“We share watersheds, so naturally it’s predictable they are going to pay attention to what’s going on here,” he said.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly referred to Red Criss mine