Chieftain’s bankruptcy last fall presents a golden opportunity for the Taku watershed. The prospect of a new Tulsequah Chief mine now has no backers, is opposed by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, has stirred very strong concern from Alaska, has bankrupted two companies in seven years, has wasted countless taxpayer dollars, and has been the cause of lawsuits and two decades of intense controversy. It would seem there is a lesson to be learned here. And by some of what BC officials have said in recent months we have been heartened that indeed the provincial government is ready to clean up a now sixty year old acid mine drainage problem and move beyond mining for the lower Taku.
Unfortunately, we’ve recently learned that BC may be backtracking in this regard, willing to see another company pick up on the Tulsequah Chief mine project where Chieftain left off. A 3/5/17 Juneau Empire feature story quoted BC’s Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett saying “We’re operating right now on the basis of some research at the site, in the river by both Alaska and British Columbia and that research has indicated at this point and time that there is no contamination in the river.” Anyone looking at the recent photo in that same article of yellow acidic water pouring out of the Tulsequah mine project site into the Tulsequah and Taku Rivers would find Minister Bennett’s quote remarkable. According to the article, Alaska Division of Habitat Director Jackie Timothy was “taken aback by Bennett’s claim.” The article goes on to say “Canada still won’t commit to a firm timeline to stop the pollution as B.C. still holds out hope a new developer will buy the beleaguered mine.” Juneau Empire 3_5_17
Though Bennett stated that “Our laws don’t allow inadvertent surface discharge that is happening at Tulsequah,” he made it clear that his government will tie addressing the illegal Tulsequah pollution to an Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA). “If the ERA fails to reveal environmental harm, we will not spend tax dollars. We will wait a while and see if a private sector party will assume the cost in return for a permit and a bond.” Chieftain commissioned the previous ERA prior to its bankruptcy. Rivers Without Borders hired an independent ecologist to review that assessment. Serious flaws and inconsistencies were identified. Review of Tulsequah Risk Assessment
Rivers Without Borders will continue to do all we can to bring attention to the Tulsequah issue and keep up pressure from both sides of the border encouraging BC to do right by the Taku watershed and the people who call it home. And good things are happening in this regard.
For example, members of the Alaska legislature have sent a letter to Governor Walker calling on Alaska to do all it can to ensure BC implements meaningful steps toward mine cleanup and closure. 2017-01 SE Delegation Tulsequah letter A commentary from Pacific Fishing by a Petersburg commercial fisherman echoes that same message. March 17 PacFish And Sit News focuses on a resolution introduced in the Alaska legislature asking for U.S. and Canadian federal government engagement in the transboundary watersheds. SitNews This reflects the growing downstream call for a convening of the International Joint Commission, and links broader regional concerns with the Tulsequah Chief issue. Tulsequah release March 9