AK-BC set transboundary plan in motion; more transparency key
Last updated 1/24/2018 at 6:34pm
Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott Dec. 20 said Alaska and British Columbia officials have begun implementation of a recently signed statement of cooperation that addresses transboundary mining and water quality concerns in Southeast Alaska.
Signed in October, the statement of cooperation provides for B.C. and Alaska to coordinate on a water quality monitoring program; exchange information on the environmental performance of B.C. mines; and enhance existing opportunities for Alaskans to receive information and comment on new mining projects in the westernmost Canadian province.
Implementation of this statement of understanding is being overseen by a bilateral working group, consisting of the commissioners of the Alaska departments of environmental conservation, fish and game, and natural resources, along with the deputy ministers of the British Columbia ministries of energy and mines, and environment.
On Dec. 16, Mallott and B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett headed the first meeting of this working group.
"We have come a long way with the help of many citizens in Alaska and British Columbia who care deeply about the quality of our water, our fisheries, and way of life, and I thank them," said Lt. Gov. Mallott. "However, we know success will only be measured by how well we do going forward."
To establish a baseline and measure this progress going forward, ADEC will lead Alaska's implementation of a water quality monitoring program.
"The intent is to have reliable data on current and future conditions so we can spot any changes of concern and act on them before we see significant impacts," explained ADEC Commissioner Larry Hartig. "Although we appreciate all of the additional safeguards and government oversight B.C. and the Canadian federal government have been putting in place relating to mining concerns, we are expecting more commercial development and shipping in the area and believe having a monitoring program like this in place is wise."
Over the next four years, ADEC will be using grant funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help support work on this program.
Additionally, Alaska's environmental department will be collaborating with others performing monitoring in the area, such as the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian tribes of Alaska.
DNR will lead Alaska's development and implementation of procedures the neighboring jurisdictions will use to exchange information and concerns relating to existing and future mine projects.
While Alaska and B.C. agencies exchange information and technical comments, the agencies will now post this shared information on public websites, providing the public greater opportunities to engage with the regulators on topics of concern.
"DNR has already seen a ramping up of the information we have been getting from B.C.," said Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels. "In addition, DNR is developing an interactive web-based map that will make it easier for the public to get information about mining projects in B.C. We plan to have this ready for demonstration as early as next month."
ADF&G is taking the lead on developing communication plan describing how Alaska and B.C. will make the information available to the public.
Greater transparency is a key element of the (statement of cooperation).
"Our central goals are providing user-friendly access to reliable information and more meaningful engagement with Tribes, First Nations, and stakeholders," said David Rogers, director of habitat, ADF&G.