Palmer Mine Project endangers Alaskan river and salmon population

(Featured Image): Baker in front of Mendenhall Glacier.
Katie Baker|Courtesy

Thirty-five miles north of Haines, Alaska, a Canadian company called Constantine has partnered with Japanese corporation DOWA Metals in hopes of establishing an industrial mine. The proposed mining site is situated uphill from salmon spawning grounds integral to the diversity and vitality of the salmon population in Southeast Alaska. 

Waste from the mine is projected to drain into the Klehini River, which runs into the Chilkat River; the Chilkat River is the only waterway that is home to all five types of Pacific salmon. 

 If this river were to be polluted by the Palmer Mine, the salmon populations would gradually be affected. While the mine is predicted to be active for only ten to fifteen years, the damages will be permanent.

Despite DOWA Metals’ claims that they are taking environmental precautions during their exploration of the Palmer Mine, further research suggests otherwise. I spoke with an employee of Constantine Metal Resources who explained that an impermeable layer would be placed at the bottom of a deep hole, which would then be filled with acid-generating rocks and limestone for neutralization purposes. 

Several issues arise from this idea. First, the environmental professionals are only employed for the exploration of the mine; once exploration has finished, there will be no one physically at the mine to ensure environmentally safe practices are being followed. 

Second, while the acid-generating rocks may seem to be contained, the mine is in an area with a noticeable amount of rainfall and seismic activity. It would only take a large amount of rain, which is not unheard of in Southeast Alaska, or an earthquake to leach heavy metals such as silver, zinc and copper into the Chilkat watershed. 

To put this in perspective, eleven earthquakes occurred over two days in the vicinity of the Palmer Mine in 2018. Even if they build dams to store millions of tons of waste from the mine, the increased geological activity in the area will likely damage their infrastructure and permanently affect the health of the salmon found in the Chilkat River. 

Lastly, Constantine Metals blatantly avoided the National Environmental Policy Act processes by shifting the location of the mine entrance from federally owned land. This allowed the Palmer Mine to avoid environmental analysis and environmental impact studies while moving forward without public input or transparency. 

The pollution caused by the Palmer Mine will affect more than just the salmon population, such as the many Alaskan residents that rely on the watershed for subsistence each year. 

The majority of people along the Chilkat watershed rely on salmon for survival, including the Klukwan village, which is located 18 miles downstream from the proposed mining site. 

The location of the Klukwan Village was chosen by its Tlingit ancestors, who built their culture around a dependence on the salmon of the Chilkat River. 

Aside from the culture that would be lost alongside the vitality of the salmon, the fishing and tourism industries would also be negatively affected. Southeast Alaska is home to a billion-dollar fishing industry that supplies salmon around the globe while allowing local communities to prosper. While the mine may provide jobs for approximately eleven years, healthy and plentiful salmon will provide jobs for fishermen for generations to come. 

Lastly, the mine will also negatively affect the approximately 4,000 bald eagles that migrate to the Chilkat River each year, bringing in 130,000 visitors and $20 million in 2017. This is a major source of revenue for local businesses and may be destroyed if mining persists. 

The Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management can be easily contacted regarding concerns for the health of the Chilkat River here:

By Katie Baker