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Chieftain Metals raise questions with legislators, partners

Posted: August 1, 2012 - 12:00am

Juneau’s state senator said the Tulsequah Chief Mine’s reasons for closing an interim water treatment plant at the legacy mine — cost overruns and the company’s need for further funding — clearly run counter to a rosier picture mine owner Chieftain Metals painted at a Taku Task Force meeting in early 2012.

“We were led to believe the financing was secure,” Sen. Dennis Egan said.

Juneau’s legislative delegation called for the task force in response to Chieftain’s barging operation on the Taku River (goo.gl/60dsg). The concern is over barges that run aground and may have detrimental affects to salmon spawning area in the Taku.

Chieftain sent a representative address the task force.

“We spent a whole day, the task force, talking to the folks at Chieftain,” Egan said. “We had assurance that their main focus was the treatment plant, that everything is hunky dory, but everything is not hunky dory.”

Chieftain installed its $9 million water treatment plant in Nov. 2011 to address historic acid mine drainage leaching into the nearby Tulsequah and Taku rivers. The company informed Canada’s environmental agency in June that it will violate its mine drainage discharge permit.

Egan said the task force received an amount of money to do studies on the Taku. But he said he didn’t know if it was enough to study the historic acid mine runoff leaching from the old Tulsequah Chief Mine. The mine and nearby Big Bull Mine was previously owned by Vancouver, Canada-based Redfern Resources.

“We were really encouraged because Chieftain, as opposed to Redfern, they were willing to talk to us,” Egan said. “Talking to us and assuring us that they were not a fly-by-night outfit and they were going to do it right. The water treatment at the Tulsequah was going to solve everybody’s problems, obviously it didn’t.”

The Taku River Drainage is a major salmon-producing river in Southeast Alaska and ranks among the most productive in the state.

Egan is realistic about the delegation’s ability to affect the situation.

“They are in Canada and we are in the United States, so everything is a little difficult,” Egan said. “I feel bad, but there is not a heck of a lot we can do right now.”

Juneau’s legislative delegation has had some correspondence with Chieftain and remains “in the loop,” Egan said.

Chieftain has said that its investors require a road to the Tulsequah Chief site and will not rely on previous plans to barge equipment to and ore from the mine over the Taku River. Chieftain requires approval of the road route through Taku River Tlingit First Nations land. So far the mine operator has not solidified an agreement with the TRTFN.

“There is serious concern for the TRTFN that several months of negotiations have failed to achieve agreement on numerous substantive issues,” according to the Taku River Tlingit web site.

Construction and operation of the water treatment plant “lies at the base of a good working relationship between TRTFN and Chieftain Metals,” according to TRTFN web site.

The Taku River First Nation said it has confirmed that the water treatment plant will get no help from British Columbia’s government.

“Which means there are no funds in place to operate the plant in the absence of Chieftain’s ability to do so,” according to TRTFN web site. “TRTFN’s consideration and authorization of Tulsequah project activities is dependent upon Chieftain’s ability to demonstrate that they are able to honour(sic) their current commitments to the TRTFN.”

Chieftain has not contacted the Taku River Tlingit First Nations on the status of the water treatment plant as of Monday.

Chieftain Metals was not available for comment.

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

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