The Unuk River in southeast Alaska is home to one of the largest king salmon runs in the world, as well as the other four species of pacific salmon, steelhead, rainbow and cutthroat trout, char and whitefish. The waters where the Unuk flows into Behm Canal and eventually the Pacific Ocean are bountiful shrimp and crab fisheries. And, while so many eyes are justifiably trained on the saga surrounding the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay, the proposed KSM (Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell) mine -- which is part of what Trout Unlimited describes as a "mining frenzy" in northern British Columbia -- that poses serious threats to the Unuk and other nearby rivers edges closer to becoming a reality.
Trout Unlimited notes, "spurred by weakened environmental regulations and the construction of a massive new power line that is one of Canada’s biggest transmission projects ever, as many as 10 new large-scale mines are undergoing exploration in the mineral-rich region that borders Southeast Alaska. Five of these Canadian mineral projects are located in trans-boundary watersheds of key salmon rivers including the Stikine, the Taku, and the Unuk. These mines could produce water pollution that may harm Southeast Alaska fishing and tourism industries while offering few, if any, economic benefits to the communities of Southeast Alaska."
The proposed KSM mine would be located around 20 miles from the Alaskan border. With a footprint of 6500 acres, if developed KSM would be one of the world's largest gold and copper mines. Estimates suggest that the mine would generate 3 billion tons of waste rock and 2 billion tons of tailings, planned for containment behind two earthen, Hoover-sized dams. More worrisome, is that a staggering 70 percent of the mine-generated waste is expended to be acid-generating. Additionally, the containment methods planned for this dangerous waste have been called "unproven."
On October 21, Canadian officials closed a brief 45-day public comment period regarding development of the KSM mine, though many groups are urging the Canadian government to re-open commenting for an extended period to allow the public adequate time to assess and evaluate the KSM proposal.
To learn more about the KSM mine, visit these resources from The American Salmon Forest, the Tongass Conservation Society and Fish Alaska Magazine.