What others say: Bennett’s visit reason for cautious optimism

  • Sunday, August 30, 2015 4:53pm
  • Opinion

It’s no secret that when it comes to the topic of transboundary mining issues, the opinion pages of the Juneau Empire have flowed one direction. Today, even though our position and concern for Southeast waters hasn’t changed, there’s reason to be optimistic about the conversations taking place between Canadian and Alaskan leadership.

For the past week, Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has opened the doors, so to speak, of the Southeast region to British Columbia’s Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett. Mallott took Bennett on tours of the Taku River, they dined at the Governor’s home and Bennett’s staff toured of the Green’s Creek Mine, among other outings. It was the goal of the lieutenant governor to show Bennett why the people of this region are so fervent about clean water and why they are ready to fight so hard to keep Southeast watersheds pristine.

Bennett, meanwhile, walked into the lion’s den. He knew his visit wouldn’t be easy; there would be difficult questions to answer and even more difficulty in winning over Southeast Alaskans who view Canadian mining companies with the same distrust as North Slope oil companies.

Yet, we’re hopeful Bennett was able to cultivate some respect from the people of Southeast Alaska by showing up and engaging in talks; that’s what most residents had hoped for all along. Alaskans wanted to know Bennett and others in Canada were listening and engaging with stakeholders, concerned citizens, officials, politicians, tribal members and the media about the risks on our side of the border.

For that, we say “thank you” to Bennett and his staff. On Wednesday, they spent an hour with the Empire’s editorial board fielding our questions with candid responses.

Bennett sat in our conference room and talked at one point about the Tulsequah Chief Mine — the same mine that has been leaching acid mine runoff into the Taku River for decades. It’s been a sore spot for locals, to be sure, and was a rallying cry long before the 2014 Mount Polley disaster. Despite environmental experts on both sides of the border saying the Tulesequah Chief Mine isn’t harming fish or wildlife, Bennett promised to do his best to clean it up.

“I said I’m going to try to fix it,” he said. “So, I’m going to try to fix it. It’s a terribly challenging task.”

Challenging indeed. Yet, it’s an important task to pursue. It shows the people of this region Bennett is a man of his word, and with the projects proposed along the transboundary area, trust will go far in a future filled with uncertainty and skepticism from Alaskans.

Bennett noted that it’s the perception Alaskans have of British Columbia, the provinces’s mining regulations and of himself that helped encourage the visit. One thing we believe with certainty is that Bennett cares what Alaskans think. Otherwise, this week’s trip wouldn’t have happened.

B.C. isn’t likely to shelve all its mining plans for our sake but they are willing to do more to ensure another Mount Polley incident doesn’t happen again.

We don’t expect Alaskans to place their trust in Bennett or the B.C. government after a few days in town. We doubt Bennett expects that either. But Alaskans asked for a serious conversation and got one. Now, it’s time to move forward and have conversations in good faith. Southeast Alaskans may not get what they want in the end, and for some the issue is more about opposition to mining in general than transboundary mining, but Canada is listening. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s a start to a better future for both sides. That by itself is reason enough to be cautiously optimistic in the months and days ahead.

— Juneau Empire,

Aug. 28

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