Canadian federal regulators said last week they have found no significant environment impacts from the proposed multi-metal Tulsequah Chief Mine about 12 miles from the Alaska border.
For more than a decade, Juneau residents and U.S. authorities have been scrutinizing the proposal to reopen the historic mine alongside the Tulsequah River, about seven miles upstream of its confluence with the Taku River. Most of the local concern about the mine has centered on impacts to the Taku's sockeye salmon fishery.
Alaska and U.S. officials said Friday they will conduct a detailed review of the Canadian finding on the mine, which is subject to public comment. The comment period began Wednesday and ends Feb. 18.
"We will be looking at (DFO's report) with high interest," said Peter Christich, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Taku River tourism and fishing contributes an estimated $20 million annually to Juneau's economy, according to a recent study commissioned by the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association.
The finding of no major environmental impact from the mine was published in a screening report by Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which must give final authorization to the project before permitting can begin.
A U.S.-Canada environmental group blasted the Canadian report Friday.
"Apparently significant environmental effects impacting the people of Juneau don't show up on their radar," said Chris Zimmer, a Juneau coordinator for the Transboundary Watershed Alliance.
All three members of Juneau's state legislative delegation have raised questions about the mine's impacts on water quality and fisheries in the Taku River watershed.
Canadian officials, who could not be reached immediately for comment, have declined to participate in a Juneau forum on the mine proposed by city officials.
An Alaska official said Friday that DFO does not appear to favor holding public forums during its comment periods.
"The state (Alaska) is in favor of a meeting. I'm not sure if we are in favor of a meeting without the Canadians, though," said Ed Fogels, a mining coordinator with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
The city of Juneau had tentatively re-scheduled a Juneau forum, originally planned in the fall, for Feb. 8.
Fogels said he will travel to Vancouver, B.C., at the end of January to discuss with Canadian officials specific concerns about impacts on salmon streams from the mine's proposed 99-mile private access road.
DFO officials concluded in 1998 that the mine wasn't likely to cause significant environmental impacts, but decided later that a new review was necessary because of changes to the mine's proposed tailings disposal, wastewater discharges, the road design and other revisions.
Terry Chandler, president of Redfern Resources Ltd., the mine developer, said Friday he hopes to begin construction of the mine next year after receiving the required permits. The mine is expected to employ 200 and operate for nine years.
Zimmer, of the Transboundary Watershed Alliance, provided documents Friday that he said indicated Canadian federal officials worked with a Redfern lobbyist to limit review of the project.
"It's clear that when Alaskan interests came up against Redfern's interests, DFO sided 100 percent with the mining company," Zimmer said.
"I wish we could influence these regulators," Redfern's Chandler replied. "No matter what happens ... I guess we are the evil industrialists," he said.
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