Chieftain plans Taku River barge

Chieftain Metals, owner of the Tulsequah Chief mine, has returned to plans to use barges on the Taku River, spurring concern from some in Juneau.

 

In its most recent plan to open the mine, the company had said it would build an 80-mile road from Atlin to the mine, instead of using barges for transport.

“This flip-flop from road to barge is very surprising. None of the barging efforts by Chieftain in 2011 and (by) 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,” Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director of Rivers Without Borders, said in a press release. “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.”

Chieftain Metals did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

In a news release entitled “Chieftain Reports Strong Feasibility Optimization,” the company listed highlights of a 2014 update to its 2012 feasibility study, one of which is “use of conventional barging for five months of the year to transport concentrate and supplies. This logistical solution eliminates the road proposed in the 2012 Feasibility Study saving $125 million in (capital expenditure),” the release stated.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said the approach outlined in the preliminary feasibility study is “quite different” than that presented to the Taku River Fact-Finding Task Force in 2011 and 2012.

Mine officials told the task force they would only use barges to bring material in for completion of a road. The new plan is to barge concentrate from the mine, as well as supplies to it, instead of using a road.

The Juneau delegation has asked for a greater role in the Tulsequah Chief and other mines in transboundary watersheds, Muñoz said. They haven’t received a formal response to that request.

“I hope the state of Alaska and the province of British Columbia will be able to work together in an official capacity, so the state of Alaska has input on not only barging issues, but (also on) the development of the mine,” Muñoz said.

She said the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Spill Prevention and Response, and the state’s Department of Natural Resources would all need to have a say in the barging plan.

The company plans to barge concentrate to a transfer barge at the mouth of the Taku River, and then to the Port of Seattle, where it will be shipped to Asia.

It plans to barge operating supplies to and store them at Paddy’s Flats, about seven miles south of the mine, a location just across the U.S. border.

Among other issues, Zimmer points out that Chieftain’s feasibility study from December 2012 raises several significant problems with barging, saying the Tulsequah River “would require more or less continuous dredging during the shipping season to maintain an open channel.”

The full feasibility study should be released by Dec. 4.

“There’s a fine line (on legal issues) but at the same time, we have a very valuable resource in the Taku that we want to protect,” Muñoz said. “So it’s very important Alaska has a seat at the table and has input.”

• Contact Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@juneauempire.com or at 523-2276.

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