Company applies for mining permit in Skagit River headwaters

March 21, 2019 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — A Canadian company has applied for an exploratory gold and copper mining permit in the headwaters of the Skagit River, which flows from British Columbia and through northwest Washington state to Puget Sound.

Imperial Metals has applied to drill for mineral deposits for as many as five years, according to a document describing the project, released Wednesday, the Seattle Times reported .


The company is well known in Canada because of an environmental disaster at its Mount Polley mine, when a dam there failed and allowed billions of gallons of gold- and copper-mining waste to flood into local waterways.

The Skagit River is one of the premier salmon-producing rivers for Puget Sound and metals, particularly copper, are toxic to salmon. The river’s waters also churn through hydropower dams to bring the city of Seattle much of its electricity. Its upper waters are home to endangered bull trout.

While the Skagit’s headwaters are generally protected by Canadian parks, the proposed mining would take place inside a Manhattan-sized chunk of unprotected land within those parks known as the “donut hole.”

To the dismay of some conservationists, crews last summer began to clear-cut trees within the donut hole at the behest of the British Columbia government. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote B.C. Premier John Horgan with “grave concern” over the issue, arguing it could harm water quality and threaten fish in Washington waters downstream.

Mining, though, has been conservationists greatest fear, and this proposal could test a longstanding treaty between the U.S. and Canada over the Skagit River.

“The City of Seattle is very concerned about the proposed actions to allow mining in the Silverdaisy area in the Upper Skagit Watershed,” Durkan said in a statement Thursday. “As with potential logging, mining in this area would threaten the environment, undermine our investments in salmon and bull trout recovery, and harm the integrity of a watershed that is critical to millions of people in Seattle and our region.”

This controversy has been simmering since after the city of Seattle began construction of Ross Dam, on the Skagit River, in 1937. The dam, by 1949, had created a reservoir, Ross Lake, that stretched into Canada. For decades, the city contemplated building higher and sending more water flooding across the border. B.C. activists were not keen on that plan.


After years of environmental protests and political pressure, the B.C. government and Seattle came to an agreement in 1984. Seattle wouldn’t raise the dam and send more floodwaters into B.C. In exchange, the Canadians would provide Seattle inexpensive hydropower through 2065.

In a brief interview Thursday, Imperial Metals’ CEO Brian Kynoch said the company needed to explore to see where its holdings in the donut hole fit into overall plans. Kynoch also said any mining would require a permit and the company would “need to come up with a plan that’s not going to harm the salmon.”


Information from: The Seattle Times,