Constantine urges delay on 'Tier 3' river protection

 


Constantine Metal Resources is urging members of the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee to delay any support toward designating the Chilkat River an Outstanding National Resource Water, also known as “Tier 3” protection.

The advisory committee will meet at 5 p.m. Friday in assembly chambers to discuss a resolution supporting the Chilkat River’s nomination as an Outstanding National Resource Water.

Constantine geologist Liz Cornejo said the company is supportive of more community education and review before any support is given to the designation, which protects waters of exceptional recreational, environmental or ecological significance and prohibits any degradation of the waterway except for projects of temporary or limited impact.

“We have communicated with some members (of the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee) and have encouraged delay of any support until implementation/management methods are finalized by the Department of Environmental Conservation and impacts can be fully analyzed,” Cornejo said.


The mineral exploration company, currently involved in operations at the Palmer Project about 30 miles northwest of Haines, is also encouraging people to consider the socioeconomic impacts of the designation (“Can the Haines economy still thrive?”) and evaluate how the designation would impact existing land use management plans (“Does the proposal balance the needs of all users?”).

The Fish and Game advisory committee passed a resolution supporting the Tier 3 designation in January on a 6-5 vote, but then rescinded its action after committee member Jamie King reconsidered his vote.

Cornejo also sent an email to Haines Borough Assembly members, Mayor Jan Hill and manager Brad Ryan on Tuesday, stating a Tier 3 designation would have “broad and significant impacts to human life in the Chilkat Valley.”

“We would encourage community education and careful consideration before any support is given for the current Tier 3 nomination of the Chilkat River that has been received by DEC,” Cornejo said.


“I would also like to reaffirm that Constantine has and will continue to meet or exceed the regulatory requirements already in place and that are designed to maintain a healthy watershed for Haines, Klukwan and the Chilkoot Indian Association,” Cornejo added.

The question of the Chilkat River’s protection status came into the public eye in March 2015 when the Chilkat Indian Village submitted a resolution to the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council asking it to endorse the idea of designating the Chilkat as a Tier 3 river.

Water quality specialist Gershon Cohen penned the resolution for the village, which is looking to protect wild stock salmon and the traditional culture that salmon sustains for its people.

Regardless of whether the river achieves Tier 3 status, any operation proposing to discharge into it would be required to get a state permit. The status of the river, however, determines what amount of contamination can be in that discharge and still qualify for a permit.

“If the water is a Tier 3 water, the mine will have to treat their wastewater so that the water quality in the river is not degraded, or it will be difficult for them to get a permit,” Cohen said.

Regarding Constantine’s recent push to get advisory committee members to delay their support, Cohen said, “If the mine is not willing to support a Tier 3 designation, it’s because they want to leave the option open for degrading the water quality in our river. Because if they weren’t going to degrade it, it wouldn’t matter to them.”


Cohen has previously stated that Tier 3 status would not impact the ability of individuals to use the river for boating or other activities. The status concerns large operations where discharge would result in permanent lowering of the water quality.

There are currently two bills – Senate Bill 163 and House Bill 268 – in the Alaska Legislature that if passed would establish a method of designating Tier 3 waters in Alaska. They would allow nominations to be made to the Department of Environmental Conservation, which would pass those nominations on to the legislature for final approval.

Cohen said he supports the power to designate an Outstanding National Resource Water residing with DEC, like it does in other states. Putting the decision in the hands of the legislature would politicize an issue that should be based on science and a waterway’s need for protection, he said.

At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, interim manager Ryan said he hasn’t directed borough lobbyist Bill Thomas to push one way or another on the Tier 3 bills.

A brief discussion on Tier 3 ensued at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, with assembly member George Campbell stating he believed declaring the Chilkat River a Tier 3 water was “sort of a joke in some ways.”

“Any time you add more management on top of what we have, I think we’re asking for trouble,” he said.

 
 

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