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Taku Tlingit oppose Tulsequah mine

Posted: December 6, 2012 - 1:12am

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has announced it opposes the Tulsequah Chief hard rock mine near the Taku River in British Columbia.

Chieftain Metals Inc. of Toronto, Canada owns the Tulsequah Chief Mine. The mine is located about 40 miles north of Juneau. It is a zinc, copper, gold and silver mine from the 1950s previously owned by Redfern Resources Ltd.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation pulled out of negotiations with Chieftain and the Canadian environmental agency on an amendment to a permit to build a road from Atlin, B.C., to the mine site through First Nation land. TRTFN had concerns over the operation of a water treatment plant at the mine and delays with Chieftain’s mine feasibility study.

Now the TRTFN has come out in opposition of the mine itself.

The Joint Clan Forum of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation rejected the proposed mine at its meeting on Nov. 18. The forum announced its opposition on Nov. 28. Forum members cited uncertainty “on the requirements of responsible development on Taku River Tlingit Territory,” according to a TRTFN press release. The Joint Clan Forum advised TRTFN leadership to "take all steps necessary to ensure that the Tulsequah Chief project, as currently proposed, is not developed on Taku River Tlingit Territory," according to the release.

TRTFN is joined in its opposition of the mine by the Children of the Taku River. The volunteer, non-profit organization protects the traditions, culture and heritage of the TRTFN.

Chieftain built a $9 million water treatment plant to handle historic acid mine drainage at its Tulsequah Chief site. The plant was completed in late 2011. Chieftain announced in June that it would shut down the plant in and violate its water quality permit while it worked on efficiency of the plant and raised finances. The mining company recently said it began testing the facility for eventual restart.

Chieftain announced in October that it expected to complete its feasibility study by the end of 2012.

Chris Zimmer, Alaska campaign director of Rivers Without Borders, said in an email that Chieftain Metals had said it would not proceed with mine development without the support of the Taku River Tlingit.

“Chieftain has stated their intent to release a feasibility study by the end of this year,” Zimmer said, “but the study could be affected by the TRTFN position.”

Victor Wyprysky, CEO of Chieftain Metals, said in a recent interview that his company is in ongoing discussions and negotiations with the TRTFN. Wyprysky said he found it curious that the First Nation publicly pulls out of the environmental assessment process but then makes “exorbitant” requests for what they want in the negotiations.

Though the road from Atlin passes through First Nation land, Wyprysky said its opposition would not stop the mine road.

“They do not have a veto on this,” Wyprysky said. “We have financing and will start construction [on the road].”

Wyprysky’s comments were validated by the Canadian government’s recent approval of Chieftain’s amendment to its environmental assessment for the road, even without TRTFN input.

Wyprysky said the Tulsequah Chief is an advanced and “ready-to-go” mine.

“It has all been put together, thoroughly,” Wyprysky said. “If we were handed $450 odd million today, we’d start building it today.”

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

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