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State to Chieftain: Keep us in the loop

Shutdown of Tulsequah water treatment raises concerns in Alaska

Posted: July 20, 2012 - 12:12am

The State of Alaska recently sent a letter asking Chieftain Metals to be forthcoming with information concerning the shutdown and eventual restart of pollution controls at the Tulsequah Chief mine in British Columbia.

Chieftain Metals announced it would shut down a $9 million interim water treatment facility at the Tulsequah Chief mine, 40 miles northeast of Juneau (goo.gl/9293J). Past mining at the site left a legacy of acid runoff that, if untreated, created a plume of pollution in the Tulsequah and Taku rivers.

Chieftain acquired the treatment plant from the mine’s previous owners, Redfern Resources Ltd. Chieftain transported the plant to its current site and began its operation in December 2011. The plant is operating at a cost Chieftain did not expect. The mining company said it is closing the plant while it evaluates efficiencies and raises more money.

Chieftain’s COO Keith Boyle announced his company’s decision to close the plant in a letter dated June 6 to Inspector Wade Comin with Environment Canada’s Yukon Environmental Enforcement Division. With its concerns on the U.S. side of the Taku River, the State of Alaska responded to Boyle’s letter.

Kyle Moselle, large project coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Management and Permitting, wrote the state’s letter in response.

Moselle said he wanted to make sure his office was kept in the loop of information.

“Keep an eye on how they are working to resolve the operational challenges at the facility and get it back on line,” Moselle said.

“The state of Alaska wants to see it come back on line as soon as possible,” Moselle said. “We are urging the company to work quickly.”

While Alaska works to stay on top of the situation, Moselle said Alaska has limited influence.

“I’m not regulating that mine,” Moselle said. “The state of Alaska is not regulating that mine.”

Moselle said he wouldn’t speculate about how soon before Chieftain is able to restart the facility.

“At this point the state of Alaska is taking chieftain at their word,” Moselle said of Chieftain’s announcement in June.

Moselle said he was satisfied with the quick response from Chieftain.

“I feel that we are being involved,” Moselle said.

Chieftain Chief Operating Officer Keith Boyle responded to the state’s letter that his company “will be happy to keep you in the loop as we move forward.”

Moselle warned that if communication with Chieftain waned, or if the mining company failed to work towards reopening the treatment plant “I suspect you would see another letter from me going out,” Moselle said. “The state isn’t happy until the mine is properly closed and reclaimed. Everyone agrees, but I wish I had a crystal ball for how we are going to get there.”

The stock market closed Thursday with Chieftain at $2.85 per share, a steady decline from its position above $5 at the start of 2012.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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