British Columbia, Alaska sign pact on protecting shared waterways

Wed Nov 25, 2015 6:09pm EST
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The Canadian province of British Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding with Alaska on Wednesday to protect transboundary rivers, watersheds and fisheries and be more involved in major mining developments in each other's territory.

Under the agreement, a bilateral group will be created to monitor water quality in transboundary waters. The two regions will also work toward allowing government representatives and scientists to be involved in each other's environmental assessment and permitting processes for mining projects.

The memorandum comes after Alaskan environmental, fishing and First Nations groups called for tougher transboundary environmental legislation following a huge mining waste spill at the Mount Polley copper-gold mine in British Columbia in August 2014.

A tailings pond collapsed at the mine, sending billions of gallons of gray sludge containing metals and minerals gushing into waterways in the province's interior region.

The Mount Polley spill did not affect Alaska, but several big new British Columbia mines are being proposed close to the Alaskan border.

Alaskan environmental groups were quick to criticize Wednesday's agreement. They have been pushing for legally binding federal agreements between the United States and Canada with strong environmental protections and mitigation requirements.

"Alaska has instead signed non-binding agreements with British Columbia that offer no visible means of holding Canada, or the mining companies, accountable for mitigating our losses should accidents like the one at Mount Polley occur in the region," said Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association.

(Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Peter Cooney)

The results of a tailing pond breach  at Imperial Metals Corp's gold and copper mine at Mount Polley in central British Columbia are pictured August 4, 2014  in this still image from aerial handout video provided by Cariboo Regional District.  REUTERS/Cariboo Regional District/Handout via Reuters