MAC: Mines and Communities

Proposal to reopen old B.C. mine causes Canada-U.S. friction

Published by MAC on 2005-06-27

Proposal to reopen old B.C. mine causes Canada-U.S. friction

Associated Press

27 June 2005

Ottowa - A proposal to reopen an old mine in the Taku watershed, shared by Alaska and British Columbia, is causing more friction over the management of Canada-U.S. waters.

Controversy over the Tulsequah Chief mining project has striking parallels with the Manitoba-North Dakota quarrel over the Devils Lake water diversion, which Canada says would contaminate Lake Winnipeg.

Canada has been crying foul because Washington is refusing to refer the Devils Lake project for study by the International Joint Commission, set up to manage boundary waters.

But in the case of the proposed Tulsequah Chief project, in the northwestern corner of British Columbia, it's the Canadians who have refused to endorse an IJC review.

Redfern Resources of Vancouver wants to reopen the Tulsequah Chief mine, which has been closed since 1957, to produce zinc, lead, gold and silver.

Its proposal would require a 99-mile road through the Taku watershed.

Environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. has said the Tulsequah proposal will have "profound negative impacts (on an) incredibly valuable, pristine wild salmon watershed."

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has fought the project all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, but has not succeeded in blocking it.

Alaskans say the Tulsequah operation would threaten the state's multi-million-dollar salmon fishery downstream from the mine.

"We're very concerned," Alaska state Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said in an interview. "Transboundary issues have a forum, and that forum ought to be used," he said, referring to the IJC.

"When you have an international group that is charged with working through these kinds of issues, it's the first place you go."

Environmentalists say the Tulsequah mine is already leaking an estimated 16.5 tons of heavy metals into the river annually.

Terry Chandler, president of Redfern, didn't dispute that estimate.

"The actual concentrations are quite low, and so are the flow rates, but if you multiply anything over a long period of time you come up with an impressive number," said Chandler.

"Everyone wants it cleaned up, but it really isn't a major problem in the grand scheme of things."

The company is under an Environment Canada order to clean up the site, but he said there is no feasible way to do so right now because it is so remote, and there is currently no power supply at the site.

He said the capital requirements of a cleanup are beyond the company's resources at present, but if it gains approval for the new project the cleanup will be completed.

Critics say the Redfern proposal calls for a new tailings pond in the flood plain of the Tulsequah River, and predict the contamination will get worse.

David MacKinnon, of the Transboundary Watershed Alliance, says the proposed new road would cross 69 fish-bearing streams and permanently open the region to industrial development.

He said the environmental assessment conducted by Environment Canada has been flawed and secretive.

The full assessment has not yet been completed, but Fisheries Canada has already concluded the mine will not damage wild salmon habitat.

"Fundamentally, with respect to effluent, the proposal here will put a much-improved effluent management system in place," said Sue Farlinger, a spokeswoman for Fisheries Canada.

There have been questions about whether Redfern has the financial capacity to complete the project, but Chandler is optimistic.

"There are plenty of examples in Canada of companies that started small and became big."

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