My turn: Tulsequah Chief Mine is misunderstood benefit to economy and environment

Posted: Friday, May 27, 2005

Despite applause from local anti-mining zealots regarding the delay in the Tulsequah Chief Mine project, Juneau deserves the facts and better coverage of the story.

People here may not care about lost jobs in Canada. But people in Atlin and Whitehorse are acutely aware that low-wage service jobs don't allow growth out of poverty. These communities desperately needed the mine's high-wage job opportunities. Atlin suffers 35 percent unemployment in the summer and 80 percent in the winter. Locals have estimated 75 percent of the First Nation Tlingit band members there support the project's development. For them, the lights of a brighter future have just been unplugged.

Moreover, the mine's opponents have totally missed the point of an opportunity to improve the environment as well as the economic prosperity of a group of people they frequently claim to speak for.

Why? Because the best, and perhaps only, way to clean up the existing acid mine drainage from the historic 1950s-era mine was to put it back into operation. That would provide the funds and access needed to seal off the old mine adits currently releasing small amounts of leached metals into the watershed.

Redfern Resources has made this mine a state-of-the-art showcase for both reclamation and producing ore profitably in a clean and safe manner. Once in operation, they plan to fill in and completely seal off the old tunnels with the waste rock from new workings, engineered so that no drainage could escape the closed system. The elaborate water treatment system and tailings impoundments would be built over 8 miles away from the Taku River and well above the high water mark, including seasonal jokuhlaup glacial flooding.

Multiple proposals were in the works to improve and enhance existing fish habitat as well as ways to create new spawning grounds. The road to Atlin will have extensive structural measures to provide stream protection and limit siltation. There are valid reasons why the Tulsequah project has twice received Canadian environmental certification; it really does have a design that protects the environment and downstream resources.

But you don't read about that here. We only hear calls for an international accord to protect the Taku watershed or how local concerns have gone unaddressed. However, local concerns have been repeatedly addressed by company officials and regulators at events such as Juneau's public forum regarding the mine last February as well as various presentations at conferences and meetings in addition to multiple personal meetings between company leaders and numerous groups, individuals, local administrators and elected officials.

Furthermore, calls for an international accord are disrespectful of Canadian sovereignty and worse, unnecessary. Participatory review opportunities were set up especially for the Tulsequah Chief so that our federal and state agencies could be involved every step of the way. This work is ongoing and our concerns are considered and addressed. Canada provided us this level of scrutiny into their process over the last 10 years now in the spirit of international cooperation.

Finally, the many differences between the Canadian permitting process and ours confuse some who thus considered it less rigorous. Nonetheless, it is as thorough as ours is. For example, the Canadian system automatically assumes that all streams are fish-bearing unless proven otherwise. Thus any project, whether it is a road, mine or timber sale, must mitigate the needs for fish that may use that trickle of water. Over here, streams are considered fish-bearing only after studies are done to prove they are. The significance is that protection measures are built in up front automatically in Canada that only come in at the end of a permitting process here if deemed necessary.

Hopefully, the Tulsequah Chief Mine will find the financing it needs and get federal approval soon. The people who want to work there are anxious for the opportunity and deserve our consideration. Redfern Resources and Canadian regulators deserve credit for their efforts to reach out to Juneau and U.S. federal and state agencies deserve credit for their years of oversight and input to Canada on the mine. This newspaper needs to do a better job of explaining the facts about that project and Canada's efforts to accommodate us.

• Liz Arnold lives in Juneau and is a community relations consultant. Her company, Pac/West Communications, represents Redfern Resources here.

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