Blog Without Borders

Alaskan Concerns About Tulsequah Chief Raised In Ottawa

Will Patric : Feb 9.2018

Alaska is stepping up pressure on British Columbia and Canada to end the Tulsequah Chief acid mine drainage into the Taku watershed and clean up the old abandoned mine mess. Our message has long been that sixty years of this is enough, and we are encouraged to see the highest levels of Alaska government now echoing that theme. It’s also good to see Canadian media picking up on this concern, as per the CBC coverage linked here.

As we’ve been saying, since Chieftain’s bankruptcy some favorable incentives are now aligned for positive action on the Tulsequah Chief issue. Perhaps most important, BC government is no longer tying cleanup of the old mining pollution problem with developing a new mine in its place.

Rivers Without Borders is doing all it can to spotlight this issue toward a positive resolution. The future of the Taku watershed depends on it.

A State Department Response To Transboundary Watershed Concerns

Will Patric : Jan 17.2018

Late 2017 saw Alaska’s Governor finally endorsing federal level involvement toward safeguarding the productivity of the transboundary Iskut-Stikine, Unuk, and Taku watersheds. Fueled by concerns about ongoing and proposed Canadian headwaters mining, downstream demand for this approach is now unequivocal, with the state, the congressional delegation, tribes, communities, and commercial fishing associations all on board. Believing that a state – provincial memorandum of understanding approach was adequate, Alaska had been reluctant to request federal involvement, so its backing of this approach suggests it is viewing the problem more seriously.

The year closed with the U.S. State Department acknowledging Alaskan transboundary concern, as well as downstream mining related concern from Montana, and pledging to engage Canadian counterparts on this issue. A State Department letter says it will “engage in a bilateral review of gaps and limitations in the cooperation framework between BC and U.S. states.”

Of course words are just that, and it remains to be seen what will come of this. But so far Rivers Without Borders is heartened by both the interest in watershed stewardship being expressed by Alaskans and the positive federal level response. Getting to this point was a long time coming, with much credit due to all involved with Salmon Beyond Borders. RWB is proud of its integral part in this progress too. In 2018 we intend to keep pressing for meaningful international dialog and the establishment of new transboundary protocols, including enforceable standards and protections, for the Taku, Iskut-Stikine, and Unuk watersheds.

Challenging Proposed Mining In The Chilkat Watershed

Will Patric : Dec 8.2017

Rivers Without Borders joined the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and Lynn Canal Conservation in a legal challenge of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) environmental review associated with the Constantine mine proposal in the Chilkat watershed. The legal complaint was filed on Dec. 4, 2017 by Earthjustice. The essence of the complaint is that BLM’s piecemeal approval of road building and other exploration activities related to the mine proposal fail to consider potential big picture consequences of a mine development in the upper Chilkat watershed that these activities could lead to.

The transboundary Chilkat watershed is home to the Chilkat Indian Tribe. It is also a major southeast Alaska salmon producer and locale of the famed Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Near Haines Alaska, the Chilkat is also known for its spectacular scenery and recreational attributes.

A press release about the legal challenge follows …

FINAL Press Release 2017 12 3 Complaint, 12-4-17





Alaska Steps Up Pressure To Protect Transboundary Watersheds

Will Patric : Nov 16.2017

On November 15 a letter was sent from the State of Alaska and its congressional delegation to the U.S. State Department. It requests federal help confronting “potential catastrophic effects on Alaska communities” from proposed BC mining activities. This is the first such request formally submitted jointly by Alaska’s Senators, its Representative, and its Governor. That this has happened reflects the unprecedented degree of transboundary watershed interest and concern now so prevalent downstream relative to potential upstream mining development.

The letter also highlights Tulsequah Chief as a prime example of why federal engagement is crucial for transboundary watershed stewardship. The abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine on Alaska’s doorstep (the old mine, as opposed to the extremely controversial new Tulsequah Chief proposal) has been discharging toxic acidic water into the Taku watershed for sixty years despite multiple calls from Alaska for the cross border pollution to end. With state – provincial engagement spurring no action, federal level involvement is clearly needed for the Taku and likewise to set standards safeguarding the transboundary Iskut-Stikine and Unuk watersheds as well.

The letter and a Rivers Without Borders press release about it are linked here: RWB release on joint transboundary letter and Signed AK Delegation Letter to Secretary Tillerson

Tulsequah Chief A Year Later And the Bigger Picture

Will Patric : Nov 2.2017

It was a year ago that Chieftain Metals went into receivership and BC government, finally, committed to ending illegal acid mine drainage discharge at the Tulsequah Chief site on the lower Taku. This was the first time BC had publically dropped its “developing a new mine is the only way to clean up the old mine mess” mantra we’ve heard for so many years, so we were heartened.  The emergence of a potential new buyer for the Tulsequah Chief mine project, proposing to pick up where bankrupt Chieftain left off, posed a serious setback to our hopes, but as we recently reported, the prospective buyer backed out.  We assume our efforts to spotlight this purchase and its implications on both sides of the border paid off.

At the same time, pressure for cleanup, and opposition to a new Tulsequah Chief mine, continues to grow.  Most notably, the Juneau Alaska based Douglas Indian Association passed a resolution calling for an end to the Taku pollution.  The State of Alaska seems to giving more attention to the problem, and showing less patience with its continuation.  As one high level official put it, “This problem doesn’t need more study.  It just needs to be fixed.”  As far as we know, the still new BC government has yet to position itself on the Tulsequah issue, but we are doing what we can to make it a priority.

Meanwhile transboundary watershed interest and concern continues to grow, especially on the downstream Alaska side.  Calls for federal level engagement on both sides of the border are unprecedented, with formal resolutions from communities and Tribes backing them.  Media coverage of transboundary issues is also outstanding.

Links to two particularly good examples of recent media follow.  The connection between the Tulsequah Chief issue and regional watershed stewardship is a significant element here.  The photos are also very telling.  Thanks for taking a look!

Canada has second worst mining record in the world

Photo expose of transboundary mining boom

Company Drops Bid To Buy Tulsequah Chief Mine

Chris Zimmer : Aug 1.2017

A private company, Black Loon Metals, has dropped its interest in purchasing the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine, according to sources in Alaska and British Columbia. At the same time an Aquatic Ecological Risk Assessment released by the B.C. government on July 18 documents “unacceptable risks” from the ongoing acid mine drainage from Tulsequah Chief. This should be all the new B.C. government needs to step in and clean up and close down the Tulsequah Chief. There is no visible support for this mine and tremendous opposition in Alaska and B.C. 60 years of acid mine drainage into the Taku Watershed is enough!

A press release from Rivers Without Borders on the latest regarding Tulsequah Chief follows.

Tulsequah Chief buyer backs out release

Tulsequah Chief Cleanup Or A New Company Picking Up Where Chieftain Left Off?

Will Patric : Jul 1.2017

When Chieftain Metals went into receivership last fall, Rivers Without Borders was heartened, not because we are anti-mining (we aren’t) but rather because we are pro thriving watersheds. And this is especially the case with regard to the Taku, the largest totally intact watershed on North America’s Pacific coast. Developing the Tulsequah Chief mine on Alaska’s doorstep and immediately above the Taku’s premier salmon habitat is simply a bad idea, underscored by this second bankruptcy of a Tulsequah Chief mine proponent in seven years.

With the bankruptcy, it seems, is a golden opportunity for BC government to finally turn the page from its mantra of a new mine is needed to clean up the old mine mess to actually taking steps to end sixty years of acid mine drainage from the original and long abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine. Indeed then Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett committed to BC finally cleaning up the old mine pollution following the bankruptcy, giving hope to downstream Alaskans who have been calling on BC to take this action for decades.

In this context, we are dismayed to have recently learned that a new company is now in conversation with the bankruptcy holding company and BC government about picking up with the Tulsequah Chief mine proposal where Chieftain left off. One would think that in two bankruptcies, BC First Nation and Alaska tribal opposition to a new mine, lawsuits, years of intense controversy, Alaskan opposition to the idea, and fifteen years of squandered taxpayer dollars spent by BC agencies trying to get a mine started when there’s virtually no support, not to mention the six decades of unabated acid drainage, there would be a lesson to be learned. Hopefully that is still the case …

Rivers Without Borders issued the following press release with multiple perspectives on the prospect of a Tulsequah Chief mine proposal getting resurrected. Hopefully good government and common sense will yet prevail …

Tulsequah New Buyer release

Is BC Backtracking On Tulsequah Chief Cleanup?

Will Patric : Mar 9.2017

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

A Tulsequah Chief Cleanup? Encouraging Words For The Taku

Will Patric : Jan 23.2017

As we plunge into 2017, wondering what the implications of a new U.S. federal government will be to Alaska – British Columbia transboundary watersheds, it’s good to at least see some favorable signs for the Taku from both sides of the border.

On the heels of last September’s Chieftain bankruptcy, there has been no proponent for developing a new Tulsequah Chief mine, a proposal which has been nothing but controversial and now has no support.  BC is now saying some of the right things about finally cleaning up acid mine drainage from old mine works at the site dating to the 1950s.  Despite years of permit violations, BC has long tied any hope of ending the Taku pollution to opening a new much bigger mine on site.  We’ve been calling this what it is; narrow thinking biased toward mining. The Taku deserves better, and the new stance by the province, reflected in recent media, is welcome. Ketchikan Daily News editorial The Yukon News The Juneau Empire ktoo radio story

But while headlines suggest cleanup will happen, a closer read shows this is still far from a done deal.  BC continues to allege, without scientific justification, that the acid drainage is environmentally benign, an excuse it appears for delaying action.  The province also continues to say it is hoping a new company steps forth to resurrect the Tulsequah Chief project.  And “more studies” are being called for.

Still, having BC even acknowledge the Tulsequah Chief acid mine drainage and talk about addressing it is a huge step forward toward keeping the Taku wild and thriving.  Our challenge now is to sustain pressure from both sides of the border, including encouraging Alaska to be aggressive on the matter, toward making cleanup happen and finally moving beyond mining for the lower Taku.

In this regard, a quote from Alaska’s Governor Walker’s January 18 State of the State address is noteworthy…

“And I thank the British Columbia government for recognizing the responsibility to clean up the old Tulsequah Chief mine. Water doesn’t recognize political borders. I am committed to protecting our waters and the rich resources they support.”

 Still words, but encouraging to hear, echoing what we have long been asking for.

New Economic Evaluation Of Alaska – British Columbia Transboundary Watersheds

Will Patric : Nov 29.2016

An economic study released by the McDowell Group in November 2016 is informative regarding the value of several transboundary watersheds. The study was commissioned by Salmon Beyond Borders and focused specifically on the Taku, Iskut-Stikine, and Unuk watersheds, the three river systems most threatened by British Columbia headwaters mining proposals. Over a thirty year horizon, the combined economic value of these three watersheds approaches $1 billion. And this figure only considers commercial and recreational fishing, to say nothing of other direct and indirect values.

McDowell is an Alaska based research and consulting firm. Its study can be viewed here: southeast-alaska-transboundary-watershed-economic-impacts

It’s always worth stressing that no expenditure is needed to make these watersheds so productive, or to keep them that way. In contrast to salmon ecosystems to the south in which untold millions of dollars are being spent to try to bring back a vestige of the fisheries bounty that was traded off for development, the watersheds shared by British Columbia and Alaska need no such investment. They simply need humility and foresight demonstrated by their stewards, appreciating what we have now – as underscored by the McDowell study – and insuring that it’s not squandered.

About the blog

Welcome to our blog. Check in here to read about recent activities in the transboundary region, as well as staff musings, and organizational updates. Enjoy the read!