Klukwan is a village of 90 people in Southeast Alaska that’s home to the Chilkat Indian Village, a federally recognized tribe, on the banks of the Chilkat River 22 miles north of Haines, Alaska. The Chilkat have lived in the Chilkat Valley for over 2,000 years. It’s a land of natural bounty. The braided glacial river hosts all five species of wild Pacific salmon, and the people of the Chilkat Indian Village live a subsistence lifestyle based on the salmon, berries and wild game, such as moose, that live in the valley. The natural health of this ecosystem is now under threat by Constantine Metal Resources, a Canadian mining company that is in the advanced exploration stages of a copper, zinc, gold and silver mine near the headwaters of the Chilkat River.
The Palmer Project raises serious concern among local residents, fishermen and conservationists because of the acid mine waste and heavy metals that could leach into the groundwater. A tailings pond or dry stacking of the toxic waste will require maintenance for centuries after the mine closes, and with the frequent earthquakes and heavy rains in the region, residents fear a disaster like what occurred at British Columbia’s Mount Polley Mine in 2014, when the tailings pond breached the dam and poisoned Polley Lake and the Cariboo River watershed.
In 2016, the Chilkat | Jilkaat Heeni was nominated as a Tier 3 waterbody (the highest level of protection for waterways in the US) by the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan because of its enormous cultural, economic, and ecological importance. As stressors in the ocean ecosystem increase, such as plastic pollution and acidification, river habitats like the Chilkat | Jilkaat Heeni become even more critical to the survival of salmon and communities.
The construction and operation of the proposed Constantine-Palmer Mine, 18 miles upstream from the Chilkat River and the town of Klukwan, and 35 miles from the town of Haines, could jeopardize the health and well-being of salmon and all who depend on them. The silver, zinc, copper, and gold ore currently being explored by Constantine Metal Resources is located in an area of high rainfall, seismic activity, and in a massive sulfide deposit – which will likely lead to acid mine drainage.
More concerns include:
Acid leaching potential: This area contains a volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposit. All sulfide mines produce acid mine waste, but wet climates like that of the Chilkat Valley intensify the risk of acid mine drainage--toxic, acidic wastewater leaching into our watershed.
Impacts that last forever: Acid mine waste requires treatment for perpetuity. Constantine tells us the life of the proposed mine would be 10-15 years, but the impacts could last forever, and taxpayers may be on the hook for treating the acid mine waste long after the mining company is gone.
An area prone to earthquakes: The seismic nature of the Valley could threaten the integrity of waste storage structures. In October 2018, 11 earthquakes occurred over the course of 48 hours, all around the perimeter of the Palmer Project.
Skipping approval: Constantine has already started digging trenches for discharging potentially acid-generating wastewater near Hangover Creek, despite not yet obtaining the required approval from DEC for a land application disposal (LAD) system—discharging wastewater underground.
Preventing public processes: Constantine has shifted the location of the exploration entry portal from federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to Alaska Mental Health Trust (MHT) land, skirting the NEPA process, including Environmental Analysis/Impact Studies that include a “no action” alternative, transparency, and a public process.
No consideration for climate change: Constantine’s Plan of Operations addresses five years of industrial activity, but many of the impacts will last for perpetuity. Constantine is using current climate and weather data to plan for these impacts, ignoring the rapidly changing climate. Climate models predict a warmer, wetter, stormier Chilkat Valley within decades.
In Northwest British Columbia, a modern-day gold rush is underway that could threaten B.C.'s and Southeast Alaska’s salmon, rivers, fishing and tourism jobs, and unique way of life. Spurred by weakened environmental and fisheries regulations and the construction of a massive new power line, over a dozen large-scale mines are in various stages of abandonment, operations, and development.
These Canadian mines in Northwest B.C. are located in transboundary watersheds of world class wild salmon rivers - the Taku, Stikine and Unuk. The Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds span almost 30,000 square miles, or an area roughly the size of Maine, and are the cultural and economic lifeblood of Southeast Alaska and Northwest B.C.
Most of these B.C. mines sit on acid-generating deposits and require tailings dams and active water treatment in perpetuity. Acid mine drainage and toxic heavy metals from these mines threaten British Columbia's and Southeast Alaska’s lucrative fishing and tourism industries, the traditional practices of indigenous peoples, and the way of life of all the residents of the region. These large-scale projects offer no economic benefits to Alaska.
Cumulatively, all of B.C.'s abandoned, developing, and existing mining projects in Alaska-B.C. watersheds threaten to permanently impact the economy and ecology of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia downstream. Recognizing this and beginning in 2013, thousands of individual Alaskans and British Columbians, Alaska federally recognized tribes, Alaska and national tribal organizations, dozens of Alaska businesses, Alaska municipalities, and fishing organizations, the State of Alaska, numerous Alaska state legislators, and the Alaska congressional delegation (and the Washington U.S. Senate delegation) have repeatedly called on the U.S. Department of State to pursue action under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 on this matter.
Current B.C. and Canadian environmental assessment and permitting allows for mines to be developed in the B.C. headwaters of rivers flowing across the international border and into the United States without:
(1) the consent of indigenous communities in B.C. and the U.S., as well as private property owners;
(2) an analysis of historical impacts from such mines;
(3) the independent collection of at least 3-5 years of baseline/reference condition water quality and fish and wildlife population data;
(4) an independent, comprehensive evaluation of downstream impacts;
(5) a demonstration of technology to mitigate impacts that satisfies both the U.S. and Canada that shared resources won’t be harmed;
(6) the establishment of an independent, fully funded, and perpetual independent monitoring system;
(7) the establishment of a robust financial assurances regime that covers all mining impacts (catastrophic and cumulative) as well as the establishment of an arbitration process for settling claims.