MAC: Mines and Communities

Tulsequah can't meet federal discharge orders

Published by MAC on 2005-06-20

Tulsequah can't meet federal discharge orders

By Graeme McElheran, Yukon News

20 June 2005

The Tulsequah Chief mine remains closed for the summer, but its environmental footprint continues to grow.

Each year, more than 13 tonnes of heavy metals spill into the Taku River watershed from the minesite near Atlin, British Columbia, according to the Transboundary Watershed Alliance.

"This is a documented violation of the (federal) Fisheries Act for 13 years," said David MacKinnon, executive director of the environmental lobby group.

For 10 years, Ottawa has been pressing Redfern Resources Ltd. to clean up the zinc, copper, lead, cadmium and arsenic that continues to leach into the salmon-bearing watershed, MacKinnon said Friday.

A federal inspector gave the company until the end of June to stop the pollution, he added.

A 2002 letter from David Anderson - then federal Environment minister - obtained by The News notes the requirement for Redfern "to take all reasonable measures consistent with safety and the conservation of fish and fish habitat to prevent the deposit of a deleterious substance (acid rock drainage) to the Tulsequah River and/or to counteract, mitigate or remedy any adverse effects that result or may reasonably be expected to result therefrom."

But despite Redfern's best efforts, metals will continue to leach from the mine post-June, said company president Terry Chandler.

"I don't expect it to obtain full compliance," Chandler said Thursday from Vancouver.

"I have a crew on site right now. We've been working since early April. We are completing a passive treatment installation on the lower-most level of the mine.

"Based on the work we did over the last year with the pilot plant we're anticipating that we'll achieve or receive significant reductions in the metals that are released."

But full compliance with federal orders is impossible without installing a costly, high-density sludge system that Redfern can't afford, said Chandler.

Furthermore, the system would require "elements that are currently unavailable," like a year-round source of power, a disposal site and an access road, he said.

"I'm doing everything I can do," said Chandler, whose company spent about $300,000 last year on the pilot plant, and expects to spend $450,000 on a "passive treatment system" by the end of June.

"It's expensive to have an environmental liability that you didn't create," he said.

"Maybe you should ask the environmental organizations why they are opposing a mine which would solve the problem."

The Tulsequah mine originally operated in the 1950s and was a major source of several base and precious metals.

The site has been leaching toxins into the Taku River watershed since it shut down in 1957.

As a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Redcorp Ventures Ltd., Redfern bought 100 per cent of the Tulsequah mine, roughly 100 kilometres south of Atlin, in the 1980s.

Debate on the mine's merits has raged between industrialists and environmentalists since the BC government approved a re-start in 2002.

The federal department of Fisheries and Oceans has yet to approve the project, having postponed its April deadline for a decision in the wake of public opposition.

In May, Redfern "curtailed" the Tulsequah project.

The company announced, "additional work will be required in order to develop a financeable project."

"We did a feasibility update, and the costs had gone up dramatically, both for capital and for operating," said Chandler.

"As metal prices have gone up, that has translated into an effect on materials. Steel prices have gone up. Lime. Re-agents. Everything."

As a result, the company needs more ore.

"We're looking for the ore bodies," said Chandler.

"The ore bodies contain copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver. It's poly-metallic, so we have a mix of minerals, which contain those metals.

"It's a very common kind of ore body, and Canada has many of them across the country."

At this point, Redfern is looking for a joint-venture partner to help finance a restart.

"I've had offers for financing, but it's not attractive to us at our current share price," said Chandler.

Redfern's stock was trading at 12 cents on Friday.

"With a surge in activity in commodities, in oil and gas and metals, skilled labour is getting harder and scarcer, and rates are going up," said Chandler.

"There's a lot of exploration going on, but there has also been a lot of increased production in existing mines. There's more activity going on.

"We're getting to the state of a potential shortage of skilled labour. That has driven unit costs up."

However, Chandler was confident exploration at the mine would start up by the end of the summer.

"It's not our preferred path," he said.

"We hoped that the feasibility study would be positive, and we would be coming up here to finalizing it and going through the financing process. But I guess we have to step back a bit and do some more things before we get there."

The best way to deal with the mine's pollution is to have the mine running so that resources are available to handle the waste, added Chandler.

But MacKinnon questioned Redfern's credibility.

"They have been trumpeting this project for years and made economic promises to the local community of Atlin that clearly don't hold water," said MacKinnon.

"(We're) concerned that liability for the toxic mess at the Tulsequah Chief site is going to get dumped on Canadian taxpayers.

"There's a long tradition in the North where mining projects and all of their jobs and money promises disappear and leave the taxpayer holding the bag."

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