0324 skagit river

The Skagit River flows alongside the North Cascades Highway through North Cascades National Park. The body of water in this photo is Gorge Lake, a reservoir created by Gorge Dam on the Skagit River. (National Park Service)

The Anacortes City Council intends to join other governments in the region in opposing a proposed copper mine in the headwaters of the Skagit River.

The Skagit River originates at Allison Pass in the Cascades in southwest British Columbia and drains 1.7 million acres as it flows 150 miles to the Salish Sea.

Imperial Metals Corp., a Canadian-based mining company of base and precious metals, has the largest remaining metals mining claim in the Skagit watershed and has applied for an exploratory mining permit to continue the process of developing an open-pit mine it refers to as Giant Copper.

Indigenous governments — including First Nations in Canada, the Swinomish Tribe, and the Upper Skagit Tribe — as well as local governments have opposed the proposed mine, saying it presents long-term risks to cultural, environmental and economic resources. The Skagit River is the drinking water source for thousands of people, including those in Skagit and north Island counties; and is the remaining stronghold for salmon, steelhead and bull trout in Puget Sound.

Protecting salmon is bound by treaties between the United States and indigenous signatories.

Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere said she would present a letter and resolution for the council’s vote at its next meeting. She said there may be some incentive for Imperial Metals to withdraw its permit — Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, a U.S.-Canadian commission that oversees the watershed of the upper Skagit River in Canada and the United States, has an endowment fund.

The funds could be used “to keep this company whole and preserve our watershed,” Gere said. “It’s not a lose-win, it’s a win-win. They can be reimbursed for their costs as a company, and we can protect our river.”

Anacortes City Council member Carolyn Moulton said she supports a resolution and letter opposing the proposed mine and spoke of the collapse of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings pond in 2014, which spilled 25 billion liters of contaminated effluent and sludge into drinking water and major salmon spawning grounds. It was widely reported as the worst mining disaster in British Columbia history.

“We’re talking about our salmon, our drinking water, our habitat, and countless generations of indigenous people’s lands and rights,” Moulton said. “There are a lot of reasons to oppose this. I can’t think of a single (reason) to support this mining claim.”

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Senate passed a resolution in October urging the permanent protection of the Skagit headwaters in British Columbia and requesting Gov. Jay Inslee’s continued active opposition to Imperial Metals’ exploratory mining permit.

“The Swinomish People are known as the People of the Salmon and lived in, depended upon, and stewarded the Skagit River watershed and its natural resources since time immemorial,” the Senate’s resolution states. “The six wild salmon species that still call the Skagit River home have sustained the Swinomish Tribe’s people and ancestors since time immemorial and are necessary for the Tribe’s culture, economy, spiritual and religious ceremonies, and the Swinomish Tribal Community’s way of life.”

The Senate’s resolution states that an ecological catastrophe of any scale in the headwaters of the Skagit River “would create long-term adverse effects in our homeland to the detriment of many generations to come.”

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