Watching Mount Polley
Executive Director Column by Deantha Crockett, AMA
On August 4, a tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia, Canada, breached, spilling water and sediment into streams in the area. This is a very serious incident that requires an investigation, one that has been ordered by the British Columbia government. An independent panel has been appointed to find out exactly what went wrong, and how to ensure it will never happen again. Until the panel’s investigation is complete, we cannot draw conclusions on what happened or compare the incident with assumptions of if and when it could happen elsewhere in the world, particularly in Alaska where we are regulated by State of Alaska and U.S. Federal laws, and where we have mining operations with excellent environmental and safety track records. AMA will be following this issue closely and will keep the membership apprised of what we learn, and what takeaways we can gather from the investigation. The public is understandably concerned; we need to ensure their confidence and eliminate any doubt that Alaska’s mines can be operated responsibly.
In addition to sharing information with the membership, I encourage all members to learn about tailings storage facilities. A great way to start that education is at our upcoming convention, held November 3-9 at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage. On Monday, November 3, a short course will be offered titled “Tailings Dam Design, Operation, and Stewardship.” On Wednesday, a technical session panel will be held on the subject. Descriptions of the short course and technical session, as well as registration information, is available on our website, www.alaskaminers.org.
One thing that has always impressed me about the mining industry is that there is a constant and consistent effort to get better at what we do each day. That extra step taken to understand the environment and figure out what practice could be put into place to make the operation safer and more efficient, is what has brought us to the modern mining operations we have today. I saw a great living and breathing example of this on our recent AMA Fisheries Committee field trip. The Fisheries Committee was established a few years ago as a forum for the mining and fishing industries to have a dialogue, share information, and ensure communication between the two industries on vital issues.
For the field trip, a group of committee members from both industries drove to Portage Valley to have a meeting. Topics were industry updates, a ballot measure discussion, and a presentation from the University of Alaska on fishery research. We then went to a beautiful pond full of spawning salmon. The pond, a former gravel operation, was mined in the 1970s and now, thanks to collaboration between the two industries is beautiful, useable salmon habitat. This was quite evident walking through the series of ponds and creeks, all of which were full of at least three species of salmon.
Examples like the Portage Valley restoration area illustrate a word we see a lot these days: sustainability. Alaska’s mining operations are extracting finite resources, this is true. But, with the economy provided by resource development, we can ensure Alaskans get the economic benefits from the revenues and jobs, and leave behind land in an even better condition than we found it. It’s the legacy Alaska’s mining industry has become, and because of our commitment to always operate even more safely and even more responsibly every day, we can be sure that legacy will continue.
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