Media Center

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 The report’s principal recommendation calls for an end to outdated “hundred year old” wet tailings storage and conversion to “dry stack” tailings systems.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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Red Chris Mine Gets Permit Despite Recommendation Against Tailings Technology Used

Chris Zimmer : Feb 24.2015


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 24, 2015

CONTACT:
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders
907/586-2166, Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org

RED CHRIS MINE GETS PERMIT DESPITE RECOMMENDATION AGAINST TAILINGS TECHNOLOGY USED

B.C. Commitment To Mount Polley Report Mining Reforms In Doubt

 The British Columbia (B.C.) government’s decision to grant Imperial Metals an interim permit for the tailings facility at the Red Chris mine only three days after an independent review panel of the Mount Polley dam failure specifically recommended against this type of tailings technology is raising doubts about the provincial government’s commitment to implement all the mining reforms in the Mount Polley panel report. The Red Chris facility is similar to the one that failed at the 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.

“B.C. appears to be rushing Red Chris, which contradicts its own promises to implement all the recommendations of the Mount Polley expert panel,” said Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director for Rivers Without Borders. “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 panel specifically recommends against. The panel called Mount Polley a ‘loaded gun’ and B.C. has just loaded a round into the chamber at Red Chris.”

To view or download this press release in pdf format, please click on the image above.

To view or download this press release in pdf format, please click on the image above.

The Panel concluded “Mount Polley has shown the intrinsic hazards associated with dual-purpose impoundments storing both water and tailings.” It rejected “any notion that business as usual can continue” in B.C., noting that, without major changes, “on average there will be two [tailings dam] failures every 10 years and six every 30.” The Panel said B.C. is using outdated technology and recommended dry stack or similar Best Available Technologies for new tailings facilities, stating the cost of better technologies should not override safety.

B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said, “What we learn from this incident and how we respond to ensure it never happens again is profoundly important to British Columbia and to the mining industry…We will implement all of these recommendations…”

“Downstream salmon fisheries in Alaska could be ruined by a dam failure at B.C. mines proposed in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds,” said Zimmer. “The Panel recommendations should be fully and immediately applied at mines such as Red Chris, KSM and Tulsequah Chief. The Panel meant its recommendations to be implemented as a package, not a list to pick and choose from based on the cheapest options.”

Despite the Minister’s promise, on February 2, 2015, just one business day after the issuance of the panel’s report, the B.C. government gave the Red Chris mine – owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that owns Mount Polley – an interim permit to begin filling and “testing” its watered tailings facility in the headwaters of the Iskut River, the major tributary to the Stikine, one of the most important salmon producing systems in the transboundary region.

“B.C. ignored the fundamental recommendation from the Mount Polley panel report in issuing this permit for Red Chris,” said Zimmer. “Here was a test of B.C.’s commitment to the Mount Polley panel recommendations and it failed. People on both sides of the border will be closely watching to see if B.C. backs up its promises with real actions and real reform.”

An independent expert review of the Red Chris watered tailings impoundment design and construction found numerous concerns similar to those that have been raised about Mount Polley, including similar soil conditions and dam design. These experts also said, “any failure of the Red Chris impoundment will have a much more significant environmental impact than the Mount Polley failure.” No major modifications have been made to the design.

“The similarities between Mount Polley and Red Chris are worrisome. Even worse, experts say a dam failure at Red Chris would be much worse than the Mount Polley disaster,” said Zimmer. “It defies common sense that B.C. issued a permit for Red Chris right after the Mount Polley report recommended against that type of tailings facility.”

In an apparent attempt to relieve Alaskan concerns, Bennett stated that Alaskans “do not have the kind of information and understanding of how we do things here in British Columbia that they need to have.” He is now proposing a symposium in Southeast Alaska to discuss mining practices and explain B.C.’s “rigorous” mine permitting process.

“If B.C.’s process is so rigorous, how did a dam permitted by B.C. to last essentially forever fail in less than 20 years? Why has the Tulsequah Chief been polluting the Taku watershed for over 50 years?  Instead of insulting Alaskans by telling us we don’t know what’s going on, Bennett should immediately fully implement the Mount Polley report recommendations, clean up the Tulsequah Chief, and support a mechanism like the International Joint Commission that would be far more effective in resolving this issue than a one-day conference,” said Zimmer.

Canada Greenlights Controversial KSM Mine Near Alaska Border

Chris Zimmer : Dec 19.2014

December 19, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:
Rob Sanderson Jr., Co-Chair, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, 2nd Vice President, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, haida2009@gmail.com, 907-821-8885
Carrie James, Tribal Council Treasurer, Ketchikan Indian Community, Co-Chair, United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, cjames@kictribe.org, 907-821-8167
Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director, Rivers Without Borders, zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org, 907-586-2166
Dale Kelley, Executive Director, Alaska Trollers Association, ata@gci.net, 907-586-9400
Brian Lynch, Executive Director, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, pvoa@gci.net, 907-772-9323

CANADA GREENLIGHTS CONTROVERSIAL MINE NEAR ALASKA BORDER

 DECISION DISREGARDS CONCERNS FROM ALASKA FISHERMEN, TRIBES, TOURISM OPERATORS, LAWMAKERS AND CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION

(Juneau, Alaska) – A proposed mega-mine in Canada near Alaska’s rich salmon fisheries moved a step closer to development today.

Canada’s federal government approved the controversial Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine project located in northwest British Columbia (B.C.) just 19 miles from the B.C./Southeast Alaska border. In doing so, Canada rejected calls from thousands of Canadians and Alaskans, including the state’s congressional delegation, individual legislators, fishing organizations, tribal leaders, and tourism operators for a “Panel Review” of the mine project in the B.C. headwaters of the transboundary Unuk River that drains into Misty Fiords National Monument near Ketchikan, Alaska. Canadian mine proposals that pose significant risks, like KSM, can be subject to the independent, expert scrutiny of a Panel Review—the highest level of environmental review allowed under Canadian law.

Since the B.C. provincial government has already approved the KSM proposal, the project now proceeds to the B.C./Canadian interagency permitting process.

“Given the size of KSM, the potential for tailings dam failures, long-term acid mine drainage and other threats to Alaska’s downstream waters and salmon, a Panel Review would have provided a more rigorous way to assess whether or not KSM can be developed without compromising water quality or fisheries in the Unuk. Canada’s rejection of a Panel Review is yet another reason why we can’t depend on the Canadian mine review process and need U.S. State Department action,” said Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association.

Press Release on from Salmon Beyond Borders and the UTTMWG on KSM federal approval. Click this image to view or download the press release.

Press Release on from Salmon Beyond Borders and the UTTMWG on KSM federal approval. Click this image to view or download the press release.

If built, KSM would be one of the world’s largest open pit mines. The design calls for three open pits, one underground mine, and large tailings and waste rock dumps that would contain billions of tons of acid-generating waste and toxic sludge. The dumps and polluted water will have to be maintained and treated in perpetuity to ensure acid mine drainage and toxic heavy metals do not leach into the surface and ground water and pollute the Unuk River.

“The Canadian government has disregarded our concerns about how KSM could pollute our waters and destroy our salmon fisheries and jobs. Salmon and clean water underpin our culture, economy, and way of life. I’m extremely disappointed,” said Carrie James, tribal council treasurer of the Ketchikan Indian Community and co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, a consortium of 12 tribes working together to protect transboundary rivers.

James noted that the same Canadian regulators that approved KSM allowed the Mount Polley mine to operate. Mount Polley, in central B.C., experienced a catastrophic tailings dam failure on August 4, 2014, unleashing an estimated 6.6 billion gallons of tailings and wastewater into waters leading to the Fraser River, one of Canada’s most important salmon rivers. It’s been called one of Canada’s worst environmental disasters.

“Mount Polley was a wake-up call for us. We can’t let Alaska waters be polluted by B.C. mine waste,” said James.

If it receives permits and financing, KSM would be a huge, acid-generating mine, similar to the proposed Pebble mine in southwest Alaska. Pebble has turned into the one of the world’s most heated environmental controversies because of the huge risks it poses to Bristol Bay’s rich sockeye salmon fisheries.

With its approval of the project today, the Canadian government concluded, as long as KSM carries out the proposed mitigation, “the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

“Canada assumes that KSM’s developer, Seabridge Gold, will be able to mitigate KSM’s pollution. But there’s no guarantee the untested and unprecedented water treatment system will work. The stakes are too high to simply assume a mine of this size, with such massive long-term water-treatment needs, and with such huge amounts of toxic waste to contain, can be operated without polluting water and salmon habitat,” said Chris Zimmer, a sport fisherman and Alaska campaign director of Rivers Without Borders, a non-governmental organization working with several partners on the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign.

CEAA Environmental Assessment Statement on KSM project. Click this image to view or download.

CEAA Environmental Assessment Statement on KSM project. Click this image to view or download.

Many Alaskans say polluted discharges from KSM could violate the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States that states “waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.” The treaty provides for an International Joint Commission (IJC) to review transboundary water issues and provide recommendations to avoid pollution across the Canada/U.S. border.

“We have a storm brewing on the B.C./Alaska border. The Alaska congressional delegation has written to the State Department with concerns and now we need our representatives in Washington, D.C. to formally request the State Department to refer this matter to the IJC. Our new governor, Bill Walker, also needs to speak out. The time is now, folks,” said Rob Sanderson Jr., co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group and 2nd vice president of Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

KSM is the largest of six major B.C. mines currently proposed in the transboundary region bordering Southeast Alaska. These mines are located near three key salmon rivers, the Taku, Stikine and Unuk, which flow from B.C. into Alaska. The mines are in various stages of permitting and development, and all raise red flags for many Alaskans, including tribes, commercial and sport fishermen, tourism operators, municipalities and political leaders who have spoken out in numerous resolutions and letters.

“Our concerns are not about just KSM. We are worried about the long-term effects across a broad landscape, including the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers, from numerous open pit and underground mines, roads, energy projects and other industrialization that is happening without any binding international process to address the long-term and cumulative effects of such development. Canada’s mine review process is not equipped to address these concerns. But that is exactly what the IJC can review,” said Brian Lynch, executive director of Petersburg Vessel Owners Association.

Visit www.salmonbeyondborders.org for more information.

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Salmon Beyond Borders is a growing community of sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, Tribal and First Nations members, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend our transboundary salmon rivers from some of the largest proposed mines the world has ever seen. Find us online here or on Facebook.

For more about the proposed KSM mine, check out our webpage on the Unuk watershed.

Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell Mine Project Risk Analysis

Will Patric : Nov 12.2014

The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) proposed mine is a massive project comprised of four deposits that would be mined as a combined open-pit and underground block-cave mine. The proposed operation is so big it would straddle two watersheds – the Unuk and the Nass – in two locations connected by twin 23-km (14 mile) long tunnels – extending under a glacier – which would transport miners and ore between the pits, and the mill and tailings impoundment. It is expected to process between 120,000 to 180,000 tonnes of ore per day over a mine life of 55 years. Opposition to the project has increased, with some analysts comparing it to the proposed Pebble Project in southwest Alaska.

Click on the image to view or download the report.

Click on the image to view or download the report.

Significant risks include:

  1. Unfavorable economics – KSM’s low grade ore, remote location and lack of infrastructure make its economics problematic according to analysts.
  2. Mining under glaciers has seldom been tried and is difficult – Very few mining companies have attempted it for a mine of this size, and significant operational challenges have occurred when they have, including tragic consequences.
  3. Unprecedented water management – KSM would need to process almost 21 BILLION gallons of water per year compared to Pebble’s proposed 13 billion and the Bingham Canyon mine’s 3 billion gallons per year.
  4. Legal uncertainties – the twin tunnels run under property claimed by two other companies who are currently suing each other. Both contest Seabridge’s access rights. First Nations also have concerns about the project.
  5. International opposition – KSM is opposed by eleven U.S. federally recognized tribes, and southeast Alaska’s billion-dollar commercial fishing industry.

Check out the report!

Taku barging – Here We Go Again!

Chris Zimmer : Nov 10.2014

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

November 10, 2014

CONTACT:
Chris Zimmer, Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org, 907/586-2166

CHIEFTAIN METALS’ TULSEQUAH CHIEF BARGING PLAN AT ODDS WITH PAST BARGING PROBLEMS AND STUDIES SHOWING BARGING WON’T WORK

Taku River Barging Faces Renewed Opposition in Alaska

(Juneau)  Chieftain Metals’, on October 20, announced an update to the December 2012 feasibility study for the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine. The most significant change is a plan to access the mine using barges on the Taku River, rather than via an access road to Atlin, British Columbia.

“This flip-flop from road to barge is very surprising. None of the barging efforts by Chieftain in 2011 and previous mine owner Redfern in 2007 and 2008 worked as planned and Chieftain’s own access report concluded in 2011 that none of the barging options were practical,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “The threat of salmon habitat damage from groundings and accidents, as well as spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other chemicals, will certainly raise concerns in Juneau.”

Redfern tug tips over while hauling a barge on the Taku River. Tug pilots scramble to top of the tug as it capsizes. Photo dated July 1, 2008 courtesy of Dale Douglas. Click on photo to view in larger format.

Redfern tug tips over while hauling a barge on the Taku River. Tug pilots scramble to top of the tug as it capsizes. Photo dated July 1, 2008 courtesy of Dale Douglas. Click on photo to view in larger format.

Concentrate and supplies would be shipped to and from the mine using conventional river barges for five months a year, with concentrate to be barged to Seattle for export to Asia. Few details about the proposed barging plan have been provided. A Technical Report will be released by December 4.

Chieftain’s October 2011 assessment of several barging alternatives concluded none of the options would work. The assessment isn’t publicly available, but a Chieftain briefing paper from January 2012 summarized the results of the study:

“The Downstream Access Practicability Assessment Report, which was completed in October 2011,…concluded that none of the barging options were practical due to low flow levels on the river which are insufficient to sustain operational requirements….Additionally, the economic and financial implications put the project at risk of being unable to proceed.”

Chieftain’s own Feasibility Study from December 2012 raises several significant problems with barging:

  • “Regarding the 2013 (and to a lesser extent, 2014) barging campaign, there is a risk the river levels will not support a four to six week campaign.”
  • “…the Tulsequah River is not easily navigated due to high and variable flows, debris hazards, and shallow areas…would require more or less continuous dredging during the shipping season to maintain an open channel. The period available to conventional barging varies from year to year, ranging from less than three months to as much as six months;”

“The new plan calls for five months of barging a year, but experience and Chieftain’s own Feasibility Study show this is unrealistic,” added Zimmer. “It is very unlikely Chieftain would be granted Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Army Corps of Engineers permits for river dredging.”

Problems with previous barging include:

  • In May 2008 Redfern announced plans to ship 20,000 tons of supplies to the Tulsequah Chief site in 200 barge loads, yet was only able to accomplish about 30 barge runs due to river conditions. Redfern called this a “key challenge” in announcing third quarter financial results.
  • In 2007 and 2008 there were numerous reports of barge and tug groundings (none of which were reported to the U.S. Coast Guard as required by law). In July 2008 a tug almost capsized.
  • In June 2011, Chieftain was unable to complete all planned barge runs due to low water levels. Chieftain planned 8 trips that fall but couldn’t do any of them due to low water, causing a loss of $750,000.

Since buying the mine in 2010 Chieftain has emphasized a road is vital to mine development and that barging isn’t viable. “Chieftain’s own studies show barging won’t work. Experience to date shows barging on the Taku is extremely challenging and unreliable. This latest plan seems a recognition the mine and road are not economical and is a desperate last ditch attempt from a company that has demonstrated little ability to move this project forward,” said Zimmer.

Redfern’s conventional barging in 2007 and 2008 generated much concern in Juneau. In 2011 Juneau legislators formed the Taku River Task Force to look into concerns about river barging. Chieftain COO Keith Boyle emphasized in his testimony to the Task Force that Chieftain had determined river barging is “impracticable” and investors were not supportive of barging.

The mine would be in northwest British Columbia, very close to the Alaska border and just upstream of some of the Taku River’s premier salmon habitat. The new barging proposal is likely to face strong opposition in Juneau. The Taku is Southeast Alaska’s most productive salmon river and has significant commercial and recreational use. Barging could interfere with commercial, sport and personal use fishing, river navigation, floatplane landings and Alaska Department of Fish and Game research. Fishermen would undoubtedly again raise concerns about habitat damage due to barges grounding and plowing through the river bottom. Accidents and spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other toxins are a distinct possibility. It is unlikely any kind of river dredging would be approved by regulatory agencies.

“This new barging plan fails to recognize the realities of the Taku River. It is shallow and fast, with frequently changing gravel bars and lots of logjams. The Taku is a tremendous fishery, with a large constituency of users in Southeast Alaska. Chieftain’s barging plan flies in the face of these realities, past experience and Chieftain’s own studies, and it will face a lot of opposition in Juneau,” said Zimmer.

For a pdf version of this release, click here.

High-Ranking Alaskans Call On U.S. State Department To Intervene With Canada Over British Columbia Mine Threats

Chris Zimmer : Aug 21.2014

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 21, 2014

With Mt. Polley Mine Disaster Highlighting Risks to Alaska from Canadian Mining Push, and KSM in the Final Stages of Review, Secretary of State John Kerry Should Invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty to Protect Alaska

CONTACTS:

Dale Kelley, Alaska Trollers Association, ata@gci.net, 907-586-9400

Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, pvoa@gci.net, 907-772-9323

John Morris, Jr., United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, jmorris@kictribe.org, 907-617-6991

JUNEAU, Alaska —A broad coalition of Alaskans, including the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation and some of its largest commercial fishing organizations, urges U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene with Canada as large-scale mine developments in British Columbia (B.C.) near Alaska’s southeast border rapidly advance. The request comes in the wake of the Mt. Polley mine disaster in B.C. and with the Canadian province’s approval of a large-scale mine called KSM (Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell) near Alaska. KSM is one of several Canadian mine projects, located near international rivers flowing from B.C. into Southeast Alaska, that threaten Alaska’s multi-billion-dollar seafood and visitor industries and pose unacceptable risks to the environment.

To view or download a pdf version of this press release, please click image above.

To view or download a pdf version of this press release, please click image above.

This month’s catastrophic accident at the Mt. Polley mine underscores the risk Southeast Alaska faces from large-scale B.C. mine development, including five acid-generating  projects located in  the Unuk, Stikine and Taku River watersheds, some of Southeast Alaska’s most productive and lucrative salmon-bearing rivers. The five mines are part of a larger mineral development push by B.C. Premier Christy Clark who has pledged to create eight new mines and expand nine more by next year.

The newly constructed Red Chris mine, located in the Stikine River watershed, upstream from the Alaska communities of Wrangell and Petersburg, is set to start operations soon. Red Chris is owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that operates Mt. Polley, and is currently being blockaded by citizens of the Tahltan First Nation.

The tailings dam breach at Mt. Polley unleashed an estimated 2.6 billion gallons of mine wastewater and 6 million cubic yards of sand, contaminated with tons of copper, nickel, arsenic and lead, into waterways leading to the Fraser River, one of Canada’s biggest salmon producers. The massive Aug. 4 spill coincided with the annual return of an estimated 1.5 million salmon to the Fraser River.

“This failure may affect salmon stocks managed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. A similar failure at mines proposed near the Unuk, Stikine and Taku Rivers would directly affect fishery stocks upon which commercial and recreational fishermen depend, as well as the subsistence and cultural needs of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of my state,” wrote Sen. Mark Begich in a letter to Sec. Kerry this month.

Alaska fishing and tribal leaders agree and are also calling on Sec. Kerry to act with urgency.

“Our culture, food security and livelihoods depend on wild salmon. Although the mines are in Canada, the fish rely on transboundary waters as part of their life cycle and these waters know no borders. The State Department needs to ensure that these fish and the rights of our tribal citizens are respected,” said John Morris, Jr., co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, an organization representing a broad section of Southeast Alaska’s federally recognized tribes.

Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association, also urges State Department action.

“My organization represents over one thousand fishing families in Alaska who rely on the pristine waters of Southeast Alaska for their income. There are thousands more residents with an interest in the fish and wildlife of this region. Any threat to these waters from Canadian mines is a threat to the U.S. economy and a matter that we hope Secretary Kerry will take seriously. I realize he’s busy on a variety of diplomatic fronts, but this is an international problem on the U.S. border and we need his focus on this,” said Kelley.

The Mt. Polley disaster “has renewed the specter of environmental impacts from large-scale mineral developments in Canada that are located near transboundary rivers,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski to Kerry on Aug. 8. “This incident should compel the State Department to evaluate additional steps that may be warranted to safeguard U.S. interests.”

Congressman Don Young also called for Kerry’s help, specifically on the proposed KSM mine near Ketchikan. KSM is a massive gold and copper open-pit mine project about 19 miles north of Alaska’s border that has already received B.C. provincial approval. The Canadian federal government is currently evaluating the project and is expected to make a decision this fall.

Alaskans, including three state commissioners and several Alaska legislators, and the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, have called on the Canadian federal government to elevate the environmental review of KSM to the highest possible level, a process called a Panel Review.

“Alaskans will face only downstream risk associated with KSM but will gain no direct employment or other economic benefits from this project. While there are no absolute guarantees that a Panel Review would prevent a catastrophe like what just happened at Mt. Polley, that level of scrutiny is the only thing that gives us any assurance that a similar catastrophe won’t happen again, this time polluting Alaska’s rich fishing grounds,” said Brian Lynch, executive director of the Petersburg organization, which represents over 100 commercial fishermen and businesses operating primarily in Southeast Alaska.

Since last fall when the KSM mine underwent provincial review, more than 1,000 Alaskans have weighed in with public comments, asking for more scrutiny of KSM, as well as the other transboundary mineral developments, and for State Department intervention. Many have cited the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada as a tool Kerry could use to address the threats to Alaska imposed by the B.C. mines. The treaty states “that the waters herein defined as boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other side.”

“Using the Boundary Waters Treaty might get the Canadians’ attention. At least it would start the conversation,” said Lynch.

More at www.salmonbeyondborders.org

Tailings Dam Failure Emphasizes Risk to Southeast Alaska’s Salmon

Chris Zimmer : Aug 6.2014


For Immediate Release
: August 6, 2014

Contact:
Rob Sanderson, Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and co-chair of the United Tribal Transboundary Working Group, 907-821-8885, haida2009@gmail.com

Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association 907-772-9323, pvoa@gci.net

Dale Kelley, Alaska Trollers Association, 907-568-9400


BC Mines Planned for Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers

A giant tailings dam ruptured early Monday morning at a British Columbia (B.C.) copper and gold mine, releasing roughly five million cubic meters of toxic wastewater into the Fraser River watershed. The dam failure at Mount Polley Mine, operated by Imperial Metals, Ltd, sent large volumes of more than a dozen toxic heavy metals and chemicals into Hazeltine Creek, prompting local emergency response officials to warn residents not to drink, cook with, bathe in, or come into contact with the effluent. Dead fish have already been reported. Hazeltine Creek is a tributary to the Fraser River, home to roughly a quarter of Canada’s sockeye salmon and associated commercial fishing fleet. News of the tailings pond breach caused Imperial Metals’ stock to drop by 44 per cent on Monday, falling from $9.47 to $7.43 per share.

The tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley Mine emphasizes concerns raised by Southeast Alaskan commercial fishing leaders, tribes, and communities about the proposed Kerr- Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) Mine and other mines proposed on the Taku and Stikine Rivers. The KSM Mine is one of a dozen large open pit mine proposals currently under review on the B.C. side of the transboundary region, all of which pose potential risks to the region’s $1 billion a year fishing industry, $1 billion a year tourism industry, and customary and traditional activities. If developed, the KSM Mine will be among the largest open pit mines in the world.

To view or download the pdf version of this release, click image above.

To view or download the pdf version of this release, click image above.

Brian Lynch of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association draws parallels between the Mount Polley Mine and the proposed KSM Mine. “This is exactly the type of disaster we are trying to avoid on the Unuk and Nass Rivers by seeking a higher standard of environmental review for the KSM project. Will that in itself prevent this sort of disaster? That is the billion dollar question without a guaranteed answer. We urge that Canada issue no new mine permits in the transboundary river region until there is a full investigation of this accident and guarantees that similar accidents won’t occur at larger mines proposed in the Unuk, Stikine and Taku watersheds.”

Monday’s event occurred near Quesnel, B.C. at the upper reaches of the Fraser River drainage, where Imperial Metals operates and maintains a tailings facility used to store toxic wastewater generated from open pit mining. The tailings pond was contained behind an earthen dam constructed in 1997 using modern technology. Imperial Metals also plans to open the Red Chris Mine, a large-scale open pit mine proposal at the headwaters of the Iskut River, the largest tributary to the transboundary Stikine River, later this year.

Alaska fishing boat near Ketchikan. Photo by Rivers Without Borders.

Alaska fishing boat near Ketchikan. Photo by Rivers Without Borders.

“The impact of the Mount Polley breach on both humans and wildlife is both sad and ironic, particularly as we prepare comments on a massive mine proposed for the Unuk River, home to one of Southeast’s biggest king salmon runs,” said Dale Kelley, Executive Director of the Alaska Trollers Association. “Mount Polley’s tailings pond is just a fraction of the size of the holding facilities proposed for KSM mine. What assurances do U.S. and Canadian fishermen have that our livelihoods and communities will be protected if those dams fail?”

The KSM Mine, a proposed copper, gold, and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Unuk and Nass rivers, plans to extract 130,000 tons of ore per day for 52 years. Mines of that size generate considerable waste rock and polluted water which, similar to the Mount Polley Mine, are stored in tailings facilities and behind dams. The proposed KSM tailings facility is roughly six times that of Mount Polley’s. Tailings dam failures aren’t as rare as some may believe. One 2012 peer-reviewed study of currently operating copper mines in the U.S. found that 28% experienced partial or full tailings dam failure.

Responding directly to the Mount Polley Mine incident, President Richard Peterson of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which represents more than 29,000 tribal citizens said, “Central Council sees this as a stark reminder why we need much more study, stronger guarantees from Canada and more engagement by the US and Alaska before mines like KSM go ahead to ensure our cultural and traditional resources are protected.”

On July 29, BC granted the Seabridge Gold Inc. an environmental assessment certificate for the proposed KSM Mine. It is now under review by the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency at the mid-level “Comprehensive Review” with a public comment period open through August 20.

For more information on the Mount Polley Mine tailings dam breach: http://globalnews.ca/news/1490361/tailings-pond-breach-at-mount-polley-mine-near- likely-bc/

http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2014/08/04/arsenic-likely-spilled-into-river-watchdog

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mount-polley-mine-tailings-breach- should-not-have-happened-bill-bennett-says-1.2727776

Shuswap Nation Tribal Council Condemns Mount Polley Mine Inaction – http://shuswapnation.org/news/

For more information on the proposed KSM Mine:

www.salmonbeyondborders.org

www.wildborderwatersheds.org

BC Supreme Court Decision Could Void Major Permit for Chieftain Metals’ Tulsequah Chief Mine

Chris Zimmer : Aug 4.2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 4, 2014

CONTACT
Chris Zimmer, 907/586-2166, zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org

BC Must Consult with Taku River Tlingit; Redo Decision on Key Permit’s Status

(JUNEAU) The Supreme Court of British Columbia (BC) on July 11 ruled that the BC government erred in its May 30, 2012 decision to make the Environmental Assessment Certificate permanent for the Tulsequah Chief mine. The Court ruled the determination of whether the mine was started must be done again and it must also be done in consultation with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN).

“This is a major legal decision in favor of the Taku River Tlingit, and the Court’s decision could also halt the Tulsequah Chief mine,” said Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director for Rivers Without Borders. “The mine cannot proceed without an Environmental Assessment Certificate. If, after consulting with the Taku River Tlingit, the BC government decides the mine has not been started, the Certificate will immediately expire and other approvals and permits for the mine are void, including the permit for the access road. The mine project would need a new environmental assessment process to obtain a new Certificate.”

One of the issues in the legal challenge from the TRTFN, represented by Ecojustice, was whether or not the Tulsequah Chief project was “substantially started” within the required time frame. Under BC law, mining projects must be substantially started within five years of issuance of the Certificate, with the possibility of a one-time extension of up to five years. If a project is deemed substantially started, the Certificate becomes permanent for the life of the mine. If a project has not been substantially started within the time limit, the Certificate expires and the project cannot proceed.

For a downloadable pdf version of this press release, please click image.

For a downloadable pdf version of this press release, please click image.

Chieftain Metals had until December 12, 2012 to substantially start the Tulsequah Chief. Without notification to or consultation with the TRTFN, the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) deemed the project substantially started in May 2012 despite the fact that very few of the mine’s physical components identified in its project description such as the underground mine, waste storage facilities or access road, had been started.

The Court noted that the TRTFN had extensive evidence to offer in the substantially started decision and such evidence was “entirely missing from the record.” The Court also noted that the information presented to the EAO for its substantially started decision was “one-sided” and the factual record was “modest.” The court ruled the EAO had a legal duty to consult with the TRTFN and the decision must be done again. The Court also said a substantially started decision should “focus primarily on physical activities, since December 12, 2002, having a long-term impact on the site” and “should focus less on the permits which have been granted, and the money expended.”

“This ruling voids the BC government’s previous decision and sets standards for a new decision that will be tough for Chieftain to meet,” said Zimmer. “I’ve recently flown over the mine site and there is very little that most people would consider mine site construction. Chieftain tried to claim that its paperwork and non-construction activities contribute to the substantial start of the Tulsequah Chief. But the Court’s ruling indicates that the primary focus of any substantially started decision should be long-term, physical works, and there are very few, if any, of these at the mine site.”

The legal victory for the TRTFN is one of several recent setbacks for Chieftain Metals and its Tulsequah Chief project.

  • On April 28 the Ontario Securities Commission posted a notice on its Refilings and Errors list that Chieftain Metals had been deficient in its required disclosures and Chieftain had to disclose this in a press release.
  • On July 8 the Supreme Court of BC ruled that Chieftain must pay $200,000 to Tulsequah Wilderness Adventures in a case of disputed property.
  • On July 14 the Toronto Stock Exchange announced it was reviewing Chieftain Metals’ stock for potential delisting from the TSX.

Chieftain announced, on July 7, an $18.5 million loan from its largest shareholder, West Face Capital, to update the Tulsequah Chief feasibility study, cover corporate costs and pay debts owed to Royal Gold under a revised agreement.

“This high interest loan from its largest shareholder is the only thing keeping Chieftain afloat,” said Zimmer. “Chieftain hasn’t been able to entice any major construction investment and is yet again promising to ‘optimize’ its mine proposal to make it more attractive. But no matter how you look at it, the proposed Tulsequah Chief project is not viable economically, socially or environmentally. This project is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”

The proposed Tulsequah Chief mine is located on the banks of the Tulsequah River, a major tributary to the Taku River, and just upstream of the Alaska/BC border. The Taku watershed is the transboundary region’s most productive salmon river and of great cultural and economic importance. The proposed mine has the potential to harm downstream commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and the Tlingit way of life, and has caused controversy for over two decades.

Rivers Without Borders is a project of the Tides Center
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Chieftain Metals Forced by Ontario Securities Commission to Correct 2013 Annual Information Form and Retract Corporate Presentation

Chris Zimmer : Jun 2.2014


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2014

On April 28, 2014, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) notified investors on its Refilings and Errors List that Chieftain Metals Corp. was non-compliant in its mineral project disclosure. On the same day, Chieftain Metals issued a corrected Annual Information Form noting that the report had been revised “in connection with a continuous disclosure review by the Ontario Securities Commission.”

“Chieftain has a history of selective and self-serving public statements, some based on pie-in-the-sky predictions, that do not provide a complete and accurate picture of the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine to potential investors,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “The Tulsequah Chief project has serious risks and uncertainties such as opposition by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, high levels of contaminants in the copper ore, unresolved problems with concentrate sales, potentially expensive long-term environmental liabilities, and ongoing violations of its waste discharge permit and the Canadian federal Fisheries Act. We applaud the OSC for forcing Chieftain to comply with disclosure laws and provide more accurate information.”

Chieftain’s April 28 press release, which the company did not post to its website, stated “at the OSC’s request, the Company withdraws the disclosure it made in a corporate presentation at a conference in January 2014 where the Company disclosed estimated net asset value figures of its Tulsequah Chief project based on established mineral reserves as well as potential net asset value increase based on a sensitivity of its established mineral reserve following future exploration plans.”

“It appears that Chieftain was trying to create an expectation of a potential increase in the value of the currently proposed Tulsequah Chief project based on predictions of a larger mineral deposit from exploration the company hasn’t even done yet,” said Zimmer “The existence of a larger, more economical deposit has not been substantiated and no development beyond the currently proposed Tulsequah Chief mine has undergone any environmental assessment or permitting.”

Looking downstream on the Tulsequah River. The proposed Tulsequah Chief mine site is center left. The airstrip and borrow pit are in the foreground. The road between the barge landing and the mine site runs along the left side of the river. The confluence with the Taku River is in the upper right. Photo courtesy of Chris Miller. Click photo to embiggen.

Looking downstream on the Tulsequah River. The proposed Tulsequah Chief mine site is center left. The airstrip and borrow pit are in the foreground. The road between the barge landing and the mine site runs along the left side of the river. The confluence with the Taku River is in the upper right. Photo courtesy of Chris Miller. Click photo to embiggen.

Canadian securities regulators have requirements for when and how information must be disclosed. This helps provide investors with timely and accurate information to make informed investment decisions. The OSC investigates alleged breaches of securities law such as misleading disclosure. If a company contravenes securities law, the OSC can issue a cease trade order on an issuer’s securities, or order a public company to restate and refile its financial statements.

Chieftain is the owner of the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine project located on the banks of the Tulsequah River, a major tributary to the Taku River, and just upstream of the Alaska/British Columbia border. The Taku watershed is the transboundary region’s most productive salmon river and of great cultural and economic importance to the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. The proposed mine has the potential to harm downstream commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and the Tlingit way of life, and has caused controversy for over two decades.

A lawsuit filed on December 17, 2013 by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation naming the British Columbia Minister of Environment, Environmental Assessment Office and Chieftain Metals as respondents could void the Environmental Assessment Certificate for the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine. The legal challenge asserts the Environmental Assessment Office erred in its determination that granted the Certificate for the life of the mine, and asks that the decision be quashed, causing the Certificate to expire. Without the Certificate the Tulsequah Chief mine proposal cannot proceed.

 Rivers Without Borders is a project of Tides Center.

Canadian Mines Threaten Southeast Alaska Salmon, Tourism and Tribal Resources

Chris Zimmer : Mar 26.2014

 

Fishing and Tribal Organizations Call for U.S. State Department Action to Protect Alaska’s Interests

March 26, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

JUNEAU, ALASKA — Southeast Alaska’s clean water, billion-dollar salmon and tourism industries, and tribal resources face threats from large-scale Canadian mining and other developments. Swift action by the U.S. State Department is warranted to protect U.S. interests. A group of Alaska fishermen and tribal leaders hand delivered that message today to members of Alaska’s congressional delegation and the State Department.

Letter to Alaska Delegation about transboundary headwaters. Click image to view and download.

Letter to Alaska Delegation about transboundary headwaters. Click image to view and download.

At least five large-scale mines are planned for northwest British Columbia in watersheds that drain into salmon-bearing rivers of Southeast Alaska.  One project, called Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM), rivals in size and scope the giant, highly controversial Pebble mine proposed for Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska. If built, developers say KSM would be the world’s largest gold and copper mine. The deposit sits in the headwaters of the salmon-rich Unuk River, which drains into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, a major tourist attraction.

Carrying a letter signed by a diverse group of 40 businesses, tribes, trade organizations and individuals, the group of Alaskans visiting the nation’s capital this week includes representatives from Alaska Trollers Association, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association and Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. They will meet with Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young, and State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior officials to deliver the message about what’s happening in northwest British Columbia, directly across the border from Southeast Alaska.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

Map of current and proposed development within Northwest BC and Southeast Alaska. Click on image to view or download a larger version.

“Alaskans rely on healthy salmon and other fish species to fuel our economy.  The seafood industry is the largest private employer in Alaska. Here in the Southeast region, over 5,000 commercial-fishing families provide jobs and revenue for the state and dozens of small towns without road access. Tourism is also an important economic driver, and sport fishing and subsistence are crucial for our sustenance and quality of life. Large-scale development in sensitive habitat is not conducive to productive ecosystems that feed fishing communities in Alaska and British Columbia,” said Dale Kelley, executive director of Alaska Trollers Association.

Kelley and the other delegates, including Brian Lynch, executive director of Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, long-time Juneau seiner Bruce Wallace and Raymond Paddock III of Central Council Tlingit and Haida, are deeply concerned by the rapid pace of B.C.’s mining development in transboundary watersheds, including the Taku, Stikine and Unuk–some of Alaska’s most prized salmon-producing rivers.  They would like to see concrete guarantees that Alaska’s water and fish will not be harmed by British Columbia’s development.

“These rivers are the region’s top producers of wild salmon and eulachon. We cannot afford to sit quietly as these mines are being developed on an accelerated timeline. The risk of pollution in the form of acid mine drainage is very real, while the benefit of these mines to Alaska is basically zero. We are asking the Alaska delegation to see that the State Department protects our downstream interests and works with Canada to ensure this unique international salmon-producing region is not negatively impacted by industrial development,” said Lynch.

Commercial and sport fishing businesses and organizations, guides, outfitters, seafood processors, Alaska communities and Alaska Native organizations all signed the letter of concern. It follows more than 350 public comments, mostly from Southeast Alaskans, last fall expressing concern about the development of the KSM mine and how it could affect Southeast Alaska’s salmon and other resources.

Central Council Tlingit and Haida, the largest federally recognized tribe in Southeast Alaska, representing some 29,000 tribal citizens, is among the organizations expressing concerns about transboundary mine development. The council, along with several other Southeast tribes, has passed resolutions of concern. The Juneau-based tribal council also signed the letter delivered to the Alaska delegation this week. One of the tribe’s chief complaints is the absence of government-to-government consultation about what’s happening upstream from its customary and traditional use areas.

“There has been a lack of tribal consultation with us about matters that affect our fisheries, our customary and traditional harvesting, and our way of life.  Harvesting fish and wildlife constitutes the nutritional, spiritual and cultural foundation of Alaska Native tribal citizens. We must be included in any decisions about mines that could affect us,” said Paddock.

The letter is available for download here and supporting documents are available for download here. Economic information about the value of commercial fishing to Southeast Alaska is available here.

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