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Canadian and U.S. officials spent more than an hour on Monday night describing regulatory hurdles for the Tulsequah Chief mine, but a large number of Juneau residents and tribal representatives told the officials they are still worried about the mine's impacts on the Taku River.
Juneau's forum on the controversial multi-metal Canadian project, proposed by Redfern Resources, Ltd., 40 miles northeast of Juneau, drew a crowd of hundreds, as well as representatives of two tribes and regulators from at least 10 different agencies.
The Tulsequah Chief, located along the Tulsequah River 13 miles upstream of the Taku River, has not received all of its certificates and permits. The public comment period on the federal final environmental assessment for the mine ends Feb. 18. If the document is approved, Redfern Resources will be able to pursue permits for the mine.
A handful of residents - including a Taku River fisherman and a mining engineer - told officials Monday night they believe the mine has developed a sound plan.
"We support other resource developments as long as their actions don't hurt our fishery," said Jim Becker, Juneau chapter president for the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters. "It looks like this mine is being proposed as state of the art."
But others raised a plethora of concerns, including a recent flood of people staking mining sites in the Taku River watershed, the lack of cleanup on the historic Tulsequah Chief's acid-leaching waste, the future of the 99-mile road for the mine, the possible risk to commercial and subsistence fisheries and the lack of bilateral land-use planning for the transboundary watershed.
An unprecedented level of staking has occurred in the mineral-rich Taku River watershed in the past month, following British Columbia's decision to allow people to stake their claims on the Internet, said Amy Crook, a former Alaska regulator now with the Center For Science in Public Participation in Victoria, B.C.
The planned mine access road from Atlin, B.C., to the Tulsequah Chief is "a magnet" for further industrial and commercial development, said John Ward, a spokesman for the Taku River First Nation. This causes fear for the Tlingit nation because its 12,000-square-kilometer land claim has not been resolved.
But Ward said he hasn't been able to get cooperation on land-use planning from the British Columbia government.
Native residents of Juneau said they also were concerned about the long-term protection of native ancestral land in the watershed in the face of increasing development.
"I have a feeling that these people are systematically going to take our land," said Charlie Williams of Juneau.
A number of Juneau residents said they are disappointed that the Canadian government hasn't required a cleanup of acid pollution that has been leaching from the historic Tulsequah Chief mine site.
Redfern Resources President Terry Chandler says his company will clean up the pollution once it is able to begin operations.
He said Monday night that the Taku River watershed has been the site of three historic mines, and one current one, the Golden Bear Mine, which has had very little impact on the environment.
Sue Farlinger, regional director of habitat for the Canadian Department of Oceans and Fisheries, said if the Tulsequah Chief does affect fisheries, the mine will have to compensate for the damage by replacing the habitat.
Alaska officials told the crowd at Centennial Hall they are working closely with their Canadian counterparts to review each technical element of the mine project.
Federal officials said they are completing a water-quality study at the U.S.-Canadian border for the Taku River that will determine if it is polluted by Alaska standards. The study will serve as a baseline while the mine is operating.
The deadline for public comments on the mine's federal environmental assessment is Feb. 18.