JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - State tribal groups have met with federal officials to discuss concerns that Canadian mining projects could divert potentially toxic water to southeast Alaska watersheds.
The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska met with officials from the Department of State and the Environmental Protection Agency last week in Juneau. The meeting focused on ways to prevent harm to the region's water quality and salmon habitat.
The tribe is concerned about what have been called transboundary mines proposed on the Stikine, Taku, Alsek and Unuk River watersheds.
"What we're trying to do is elevate our concerns and make sure they're heard at the appropriate levels," Central Council President Richard Peterson told The Juneau Empire (http://bit.ly/2bCgqKw). "We're not against mining, what we're concerned about are the mining practices that are proposed. ... We're concerned that all measures are taken and we want to ensure that our voices are heard."
Peterson said the tribe asked the EPA for a "shift in funding to prioritize baseline water quality studies."
"They are not going to walk away making promises, but I felt they were very responsive in regards to our needs, especially the EPA," Peterson said. "This is an ongoing process but I hope they come back with some funding identified."
The meetings comes after Alaska's congressional delegation asked the State Department in a May letter to consider action through the International Joint Commission, an intergovernmental agency tasked with water disputes along internationally shared water. The State Department declined the request in a June 14 response.
Several tribal groups and southeast environmental groups also petitioned the Department of the Interior to pursue mediating transboundary mines in a June petition. That request hasn't yet been answered.
Organized Village of Kasaan Tribal Vice President Frederick Olsen Jr. said last week's meetings do little to speed up the process of getting protection for southeast Alaska's watersheds.
"It's good to have these meetings, but we need something to happen," Olsen said. "We need federal engagement, this is an international issue so of course we need international solutions. As good as British Columbia and Alaska are at working together, the things we have aren't really enforceable."
Peterson said next steps include having a follow-up meeting in Washington, D.C.
Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com