The British Columbia provincial government will allow Redfern Resources Ltd. to start cleaning up the old contaminated Tulsequah Chief mine before it digs anew for ore.
The province has granted the first of three planned Mines Act permits, allowing the cleanup to move ahead.
"They're substantial in the grand scheme of the operating permits," said Salina Landstad, spokeswoman for the Vancouver-based mine operator, which is owned by Redcorp Ventures Ltd. "There are aspects of the design that are still being worked on."
The Tulsequah Chief multi-metal mine site is on the Tulsequah River in Canada, about 40 miles northeast of Juneau.
To operate in the United States, a mine company has to have all its permits before it starts any construction. In Canada, instead, a mine is first approved in principle with limited information about its design or impacts. Mine operators apply for more specific permits as they progress.
The mine's main operating plan will be detailed in two future permits, for which Redfern has not yet applied, from the British Columbia provincial government.
Cominco, then the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Co. of Canada, mined the area in the 1950s. The Tulsequah Chief mine shut down in 1957, when metal prices were low. Redfern started exploring the area in 1981, and eventually bought out its partner Teck Cominco Ltd. Now potentially acid-generating waste remains, and the Canadian provincial government has required Redfern to clean it up.
The latest permit, granted Feb. 29, allows the mine to build waste sites, dig water ditches and install a water treatment plant for the potentially acid-generating waste.
Redfern also must post half of a $1.2 million security by the end of March to cover reclamation activities. The remainder must be paid by Dec. 31.
Redfern has already received Canada permits from the Ministry of Forests to cut road areas from the barge landing site north to its airstrip. Canada has also authorized the company to cross navigable waters.
The mine has proposed sending supplies up and down the Taku River through Alaska. In the winter and shoulder season, it wishes to move a hoverbarge with one or two Amphitracs, which are vehicles invented specifically to cross the ice, gravel and water of the Taku. State permitters are awaiting more environmental impact information from the company before deciding on the permits.
Local users of the Taku River have been concerned that the barge system would damage the fish-rich river.
"We cannot count on the Canadian federal or B.C. government to protect Alaska's interest in the Taku," said Chris Zimmer, director of Rivers Without Borders, who has organized much of the opposition to the mine. "They've basically rubber-stamped everything the company wants to do."
But Graham Curry, spokesman for the ministry that granted the permits, said, "Nothing's rubber-stamped. We have a very thorough permitting process."
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