Blog Without Borders

Chieftain Metals Is Bankrupt

Will Patric : Sep 13.2016

On September 6 Chieftain Metals announced that it was entering receivership and that most of its directors have resigned. Chieftain has been trying to get the Tulsequah Chief mine development going in the lower Taku watershed since 2010. Its predecessor, Redcorp, went bankrupt as well. In both cases, sustained opposition from both sides of the border has made things difficult for the proponents and has been an important factor in these bankruptcies. Linked here is our press release about this development.

chieftain-bankruptcy-release

Fifteen years of intense controversy, lawsuits, continued acid mine pollution and other compliance problems at the site, and a huge waste of taxpayer money, should inform government, industry, and potential investors alike that mining in the lower Taku isn’t such a good idea. The bankruptcy creates an opportunity for British Columbia to finally do the right thing and clean up the Tulsequah mess and, heeding overwhelming First Nation, Native Alaskan, and commercial fishing resistance to the project, withdraw the mineral tenures so that the region’s top transboundary salmon system will no longer be jeopardized.

As Alaska’s congressional delegation continues urging the U.S. State Department to become engaged in the transboundary region, Tulsequah Chief is a perfect example of why this is so imperative.

Keeping Up The Pressure On Tulsequah/Taku Water Quality Issue

Will Patric : Jun 8.2016

Rivers Without Borders has been spotlighting the acid mine drainage problem at the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine site. This effort in turn helped spur BC government to finally admit that there is a problem and even call for remedial action. While this is an important step in the right direction, BC has unfortunately also downplayed the problem, suggesting that the ecological impact of the decades old discharge into the Taku watershed is minor. BC has based this assertion at least in part on a Tulsequah River water quality assessment carried out by Chieftain Metals, the company behind the Tulsequah Chief mine proposal.

Rivers Without Borders hired an independent aquatic scientist to review the Chieftain water quality assessment. Her report, which we made public on June 8, documents many problems, inconsistencies, and flaws with the company sponsored assessment and calls to question government claims regarding ecological impacts. The press release we put out, an RWB fact sheet summarizing the findings, and the independent scientist’s report are linked below.

Maintaining pressure on the Tulsequah pollution problem is crucial toward keeping the Taku watershed thriving. The acid mine drainage is a vivid reminder of why developing the Tulsequah Chief mine in one of North America’s premier wild salmon systems is a bad idea. That the problem persists also underscores the need for enhanced transboundary watershed stewardship and protections such as the International Joint Commission could bring about.

Tulsequah Press Release

Tulsequah Water Quality Fact Sheet

Review of Tulsequah Risk Assessment

Alaska’s Congressional Delegation Stands Up For Transboundary Watersheds

Will Patric : Jun 6.2016

On May 12 the full Alaska Congressional delegation sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting federal government engagement, including consideration of an International Joint Commission (IJC) convening, focused on BC headwaters development concerns. Downstream Alaska tribes, commercial fishermen, and communities have been calling for this for many months, and it is heartening to see elected officials at this level responding this way. Of course the letter is only one notable step in a long journey toward safeguarding the ecological and cultural values of transboundary watersheds, but it’s a big one. Please find the letter and related U.S. and Canadian press below.

5.12.16 Transboundary Letter to Sec Kerry – Alaska Delegation

Delegation asks Kerry for transboundary review _ The Alaska Journal of Commerce

Alaska asks John Kerry to raise B.C. mine pollution concerns with Canada – The Globe and Mail

On a separate but related matter, it’s noteworthy that an editorial was published by the Juneau Empire:  Empire Editorial_ Deja vu over mining mess _ Juneau Empire – Alaska’s Capital City Online Newspaper just a few days later saying enough is enough with regard to ongoing acid mine drainage into the Taku watershed at the site of the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine. The company behind the contentious project is violating its permit, and BC has failed, for many years, to do anything about it. Making this connection between Tulsequah Chief and BC’s failed mining oversight (likewise echoed by the recent BC Auditor General’s findings) has made the push for the sort of international, indigenous, and scientific engagement the IJC could offer more than an exercise toward improving watershed stewardship. It’s critical if we are to bring about ecosystem based watershed planning and decision making with enforceable standards essential to keeping the transboundary watersheds intact and thriving.

BC Auditor General’s Report On Mining Oversight Echoes Taku And Transboundary Watershed Concerns

Will Patric : May 18.2016

The May 2016 release of a British Columbia Auditor General report titled “An Audit of Compliance and Enforcement in the Mining Sector” echoes what Rivers Without Borders has been saying for years.   According to the Auditor General’s own press release, “We found almost every one of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program … were not met.” The 109 page report should further spur Alaska – BC transboundary watershed interest and concern relative to proposed BC headwaters mining development, especially downstream, and the growing call for an International Joint Commission convening to address those concerns.

The BC audit points to the catastrophic Mount Polley tailings dam failure of summer 2014, and the ongoing acid mine drainage discharge related to the controversial Tulsequah Chief mine proposal, as notable examples of its findings.

The same week the Auditor General’s report came out, an item in the Juneau Empire solidified the audit’s findings with coverage of the Tulsequah Chief issue. “Tulsequah Chief mine owner descends further in financial hole” documents both the proponent company’s financial problems and permit compliance issues, which BC has to date failed to enforce. This was followed by an editorial in that same paper a few days later. Quoting the article, “Many Southeast Alaskans are wondering how many more years, or decades, it will take before this mining mess is cleaned up and given priority status.”

Both the Auditor’s report and the Juneau Empire piece are linked below.

Compliance and Enforcement Mining FINAL

Tulsequah Chief Mine owner defaults on debt payment, critics wonder about cleanup responsibility | Juneau Empire – Alaska’s Capital City Online Newspaper

RWB will continue doing all it can to highlight the connection between the abysmal oversight of Tulsequah Chief and regional watershed concerns now accentuated by the Auditor General.

New Report Assessing Mine Tailings Impoundment Design And Safety In BC Transboundary Watershed Headwaters Released

Will Patric : Mar 25.2016

On March 22 a new report was released titled Post-Mount Polley Tailings Dam Safety In Transboundary British Columbia. It assesses best practices – or lack thereof – regarding northwest BC mine tailings design since the catastrophic Mount Polley tailings impoundment failure in 2014.  The BC government promised things would be different following the disaster, but the report unfortunately shows otherwise.  As the downstream demand for measures to safeguard Alaska – BC transboundary watershed salmon habitat grows, it is vital that this continued disregard of best practices relative to tailings management is known.

Dr. Dave Chambers with Center for Science in Public Participation authored the report developed with Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada.  Rivers Without Borders partnered in the project and cultivated support from numerous NGOs signing on.

Links to articles related to the press release describing the report’s findings, and the report itself, are here.

http://www.desmog.ca/2016/03/23/b-c-ignores-best-practices-allows-mount-polley-style-tailings-dams-alaska-border-new-report-finds

http://www.miningweekly.com/article/ngos-urge-bc-to-implement-tailings-storage-best-practice-as-it-review-mining-code-2016-03-22

https://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/Post-MountPolleyTailingsDamSafety.pdf

Growing International Support For International Joint Commission Transboundary Engagement

Will Patric : Feb 15.2016

The downstream Alaska demand for International Joint Commission (IJC) oversight and engagement in the Alaska – British Columbia transboundary watersheds is unprecedented. It’s coming from tribes, commercial fishermen, communities, and elected officials concerned about proposed mining development in the BC headwaters threatening outstanding salmon habitat. An IJC convening ultimately requires a federal level referral by the US. and/or Canada under the auspices of the Boundary Waters Treaty between the two nations. IJC engagement is by no means a “silver bullet” for keeping the Taku, Iskut-Stikine, and Unuk watersheds wild and thriving, but it would make possible the kind of international dialog, stakeholder involvement, and establishment of enforceable water quality standards that we believe is absolutely essential toward ecosystem based watershed stewardship.

The interest is not limited solely to the downstream U.S. side. Canadian NGOs are also joining the call. Following is a —- letter to Alaska’s Governor demonstrating Canadian NGO support for the BC – Alaska transboundary watersheds IJC idea.

Letter to Alaska governor from British Columbia calling for IJC engagement 01-20-16

Southeast Alaska Estuaries Initiative Moving Into High Gear

Will Patric : Jan 19.2016

The Southeast Alaska Estuaries Initiative is a collaboration of Rivers Without Borders, Dr. Daniel Schindler with the University of Washington School of Fisheries and Aquatic Science, and the Natural Capital Project.  It’s foremost a vision of Sam Skaggs of Juneau.  His Skaggs Foundation has been a long time backer of Alaska conservation efforts.  Sam recognized that a wealth of knowledge about southeast Alaska’s estuary system is now available, based on extensive survey, research, and GIS work in recent years.  But this accumulation of estuaries knowledge is doing little to advance conservation, and thus the idea of our Initiative.  Its goal is to determine monetary values of Tongass estuaries through a range of products and uses integral to the estuaries and to highlight those values. Salmon of course is an obvious example. But what about other commercial and sport fisheries?  Shell fish? Tourism? Subsistence harvesting? Whale and wildlife watching? Etc.

We know SE Alaska’s estuary system is largely intact and one of the most productive in North America if not the world.  Being able to credibly assign specific numbers to this value will help us build conservation interest in a tangible way Alaskans can appreciate.  And of course the timing is crucial since the estuaries are still in such great shape but the threat of upstream development that would feed into them is growing. As Rivers Without Borders and our tribal/First Nation, commercial fishing, community, and NGO partners spotlight potential upstream watershed development threats, additional focus on the downstream estuaries and their value to Alaska will help us tell a more complete transboundary story and cultivate conservation interest where it can make a difference.

Part one of our Initiative is about research and numbers crunching, melding ecological and economic data. The second part will be storytelling, bringing new attention to a thriving, bountiful ecosystem. Sam likes to say, only partially joking, that if we do our job the Tongass National Forest will be renamed the Tongass National Forest and Estuary.

If you would like to learn more about who is involved in the Southeast Alaska Estuary Initiative, and what we are trying to do, please contact us.

Chilkat Highway Upgrade Update

Will Patric : Dec 18.2015

The state of Alaska is still pursuing plans for a major upgrade of the Haines Highway along the Chilkat River between the Borough of Haines and the northwest corner of British Columbia. RWB efforts were instrumental in getting the original Environmental Assessment for this project remanded as inadequate. A revised Environmental Assessment came out this fall, and RWB and fellow environmental advocates Lynn Canal Conservation, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and Alaska Audubon responded aggressively. The Chilkat Indian Village also has many concerns about the highway proposal which we share.

Alaska’s rationale for this six to eight year construction project through the world’s only designated Bald Eagle Preserve is alleged safety concerns. RWB wants the road to be safe, but we have pointed out that simply reducing the speed limit a little would accomplish that and save around $130 million. We have also observed that there are intersections in Seattle that see more traffic in five minutes than the lightly used Haines Highway gets in a week. Taxpayers should be outraged by this prioritization of scarce highway construction funding. But more important, degradation of salmon habitat providing the very basis of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is unacceptable.

RWB’s comments on the revised Haines Highway EA follow. The Chilkat River, and the one of a kind Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve along its banks, need advocates. If you share our concern about the highway, and would like to be a voice for eagles, salmon, and a spectacular transboundary river, please let us know.

Rivers Without Borders – Revised Haines Highway EA

British Columbia Finally Calling For Tulsequah Cleanup

Will Patric : Dec 10.2015

British Columbia is finally putting a little pressure on Chieftain Metals, at least in words, to bring its proposed Tulsequah Chief mine project into compliance with permits. The compliance issue involves the pollution legacy of a small scale underground mine on the site abandoned in the 1950s. Acid mine drainage from the old workings has been bleeding into the Taku watershed via the Tulsequah River ever since. Toward meeting permit requirements, Chieftain opened a water treatment facility to deal with the problem several years ago, but shut it down after only a few months citing cost and technical challenges. BC has largely ignored the ongoing pollution, so the attention now being shown by the province is welcome.

The timing of this attention is not surprising, however, given that BC has been trying to appease growing downstream Alaskan concerns about proposed mining in transboundary river headwaters. The concern mostly focuses on the extremely controversial Tulsequah Chief mine proposal for the lower Taku, the gigantic KSM mine proposal targeting the Unuk watershed and likewise very close to Alaska’s border, and the Red Chris mine’s seemingly rushed opening in the Iskut-Stikine watershed. Red Chris worries, for the record, have been fueled by the catastrophic failure of the Mount Polley mine tailings facility in southern BC in the summer of 2014. Imperial, the operator of Mount Polley, is the owner of Red Chris, and similarities between the two mines are striking. Anyway, it looks as if BC has decided that, if it’s going to get any traction winning over skeptical Alaskans about transboundary headwaters mining, demonstrating some regulatory resolve with Tulsequah would be wise.

Rivers Without Borders commends BC for finally showing interest in the Tulsequah issue. A November notice to Chieftain, citing numerous problems, has called on the company to “within 90 days … submit an overall plan to bring the mine into compliance.” Recent inspections of the Tulsequah site by BC government have documented more extensive compliance issues than we were aware of. But it’s disappointing, at the same time, that BC is alleging the acid mine drainage into the Taku, the region’s number one salmon watershed, is inconsequential when it has little basis for such statements. BC’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, told the Juneau Empire that “… scientists on both sides of the border say there isn’t any environmental harm from what’s going into the Tulsequah River.” We do not believe that’s the case, and we’ve contracted an independent technical expert to assess the study by which Mr. Bennett is making this claim. Stay tuned …Non compliance release

Canadians and Americans Demand No More Mount Polleys

Chris Zimmer : Apr 28.2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 28, 2015

CONTACTS:

Monty Bassett, Documentary Filmmaker, 250-877-0961 or 250-847-5605
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, 907-586-2166 or 907-988-8173,     Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org
Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, Professor of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, daviswade@aol.com

Diverse group of Alaska Tribes, members of First Nations, businesses, organizations, scientists and individuals calls for end to wet mine tailings storage in B.C.

Today a large and diverse group of Canadians and Americans called on the British Columbia (B.C.) government to halt the permitting of wet tailings facilities for new and proposed mines in B.C. based on the Independent Expert Panel recommendations on the Mount Polley mine tailings disaster. Eighty-seven Alaska Native tribes, members of B.C. First Nations, businesses, prominent individuals, scientists, and conservation groups signed a letter to the B.C. government calling for a shift to newer and safer dry tailings storage technology.

“Wet tailings impoundments are an unacceptable financial and environmental liability now and for future generations,” said letter organizer Monty Bassett. “A failure by the B.C. government to stop further construction of wet tailings storage facilities would be a blatant disregard for safety and its own commitments to adopt Best Available Technologies and Practices. Dry stack is a proven tailings technology. Mining industry complaints about costs fly in the face of the Mount Polley report recommendation that costs should not trump safety.”

Statement of Opposition to Continued Permitting of Wet Tailings Facilities in BC. Click on image to view or download pdf.

Statement of Opposition to Continued Permitting of Wet Tailings Facilities in BC. Click on image to view or download pdf.

These concerns are based on recommendations by the Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel, which released a report on the Mount Polley tailings failure in January 2015. The report found that unless significant changes are made in the way B.C. tailings dams are designed and maintained, more failures can be expected. The report’s principal recommendation calls for an end to outdated “hundred year old” wet tailings storage and conversion to “dry stack” tailings systems. According to page 120 of the report, “Improving technology to ensure against failures requires eliminating water both on and in the tailings: water on the surface, and water contained in the interparticle voids. Only this can provide the kind of failsafe redundancy that prevents releases no matter what.”

“We cannot afford another Mount Polley, especially at mines like Red Chris or the proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM), which are much bigger and will have more toxic acidic tailings,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “Unless there are major changes to B.C. tailings storage, we will soon see more dangerous dams built across B.C. and in the headwaters of major transboundary salmon rivers such as the Stikine, Taku and Unuk. These tailings dumps will be toxic time bombs poised upstream of vital salmon habitat.”

Despite the Mount Polley report’s recommendations, just days after the Panel released its report, B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines issued an “interim operating” permit for a wet-tailings facility at the Red Chris mine in northwestern B.C., in the headwaters of the transboundary, salmon-rich Stikine River. The interim permit expires May 4, 2015. The Red Chris facility, also owned by Imperial Metals, is similar to the one that failed at Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine in August, releasing almost 25 million cubic meters (6.6 billion gallons) of mine waste water and tailings into the Fraser River watershed.

“It is reckless for B.C. to permit the kind of outdated watered tailings facility at Red Chris that failed at Mount Polley and that the expert panel specifically recommends against,” said Zimmer. “The panel called Mount Polley a ‘loaded gun’ and B.C. is loading the chamber at Red Chris.”

According to an independent expert report commissioned by Imperial Metals, “any failure of the Red Chris impoundment will likely have a much more significant environmental impact than the Mount Polley failure.” This is also true of other mines such as KSM. The proposed KSM tailings facility is roughly six times that of Mount Polley’s.

“We know that a dam failure at mines like Red Chris or KSM could have far worse consequences than Mount Polley, yet the B.C. government and the mining industry are avoiding the one thing that could reduce the risk of such a failure,” said Zimmer. “The costs of such failures to downstream communities could dwarf the costs of implementing changes now.”

The lessons of Mount Polley show that tailings failures are very difficult and expensive to clean up, there are no insurance policies for tailings dams, mine company bonding doesn’t pay for accidents or disasters, and there are no clear mechanisms to compensate injured parties. Industry often can’t pay, which means either B.C. taxpayers end up paying for substantial environmental liabilities, or cleanup and compensation doesn’t happen.

“What we are saying is to do Red Chris right,” said author Wade Davis, who owns a lodge at the base of Mount Todagin where Red Chris is situated. “In the wake of Mount Polley, how can we trust wet tailings storage? Can we not expect the safest mine technology possible from Imperial Metals?”

The letter was sent to Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines; Mary Polak, Minister of Environment; Al Hoffman, Chief Inspector of Mines; Diane Howe, Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines; Norm MacDonald, MLA, Opposition Critic for Energy and Mines; and Doug Donaldson, MLA, Stikine.

For more information:  www.riverswithoutborders.org, www.wildborderwatersheds.org and www.cleanmining.ca

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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!