All sides appeal mine decision

Develper, B.C. want Tulsequah Chief ruling reversed

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2000

In British Columbia, nobody is satisfied with the recent court ruling that blocked reopening of the Tulsequah Chief mine.

But Alaska officials see an opportunity to ensure environmental protection on both sides of the border.

The mine, 40 miles northeast of Juneau, produced gold, lead, copper, zinc and silver before being shut down in 1957 due to low prices. Redfern Resources Ltd., of Vancouver, proposes to reopen it by 2002.

But B.C. Supreme Court Judge Pamela Kirkpatrick recently threw the project into limbo by quashing the government project certificate needed to reopen the mine.

All three major parties to the case -- the province, the would-be developer and local Tlingits -- have appealed the decision.

The province and Redfern simply object to Kirkpatrick's ruling. Their filings with the Court of Appeal have yet to make a legal argument for overturning it and their attorneys aren't giving interviews on the subject.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation asserts Kirkpatrick didn't go far enough and should have required the environmental review process to begin from scratch.

``We want to go back before there was political interference with the environmental process,'' said First Nation spokesman John Ward from Atlin.

The Tlingits contend pressure from pro-development forces caused the province to ``shotgun'' the project certificate in 1998. Their main concern is a proposed 100-mile access road through the wilderness south of Atlin. They say the road would damage their culture and subsistence lifestyle by dispersing animal populations.

Kirkpatrick concluded ``important evidence put forward by the Tlingits was not examined either fully or at all,'' resulting in ``a breach of the rules of procedural fairness.'' She ordered the province to reconsider the project but did not invalidate the four-year environmental review entirely.

Ward, the Tlingit spokesman, said the appeals by the province and Redfern are troubling.

``It looks like they still think they can go ahead,'' he said. ``I don't think they're getting the point. ... We feel we need to go back to more of a first principle approach to sustainable development.''

Redfern President Terry Chandler has not returned Empire telephone calls since the court decision June 28.

Alaskans continue to keep a watchful eye.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer wrote last week to B.C.'s minister of energy and mines, Dan Miller, requesting a ``bi-national comprehensive plan for the entire Taku River watershed.''

The mine project would take place above the Taku River, which is a major salmon producer in Southeast Alaska.

That was the reason for unusual negotiations in Vancouver in June among national and state officials from both countries. During those meetings, held before the court decision, B.C. officials reportedly were sympathetic to American concerns but said the Tulsequah Chief project was a done deal.

Since the project certificate has been quashed, Ulmer is suggesting provincial officials are free to act. She is asking them to agree to involving the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canada entity that hears transboundary disputes.

But the Alaska Miners Association is concerned about the Knowles administration's aggressiveness on the issue.

Executive Director Steven Borell said from Anchorage recently that he's glad the two sides are talking.

But Borell expressed disappointment that Alaska officials are still pushing for IJC review, which he said would put the matter in the hands of bureaucrats who are unaccountable to voters.

``I think the state of Alaska should be able to sit down with B.C. without the IJC anywhere in sight,'' he said. ``I think it unnecessarily complicates the whole process.''



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