The government of British Columbia said today it has approved the proposed Tulsequah Chief Mine 40 miles northeast of Juneau and 60 miles south of Atlin in northwestern B.C.
For more on the Internet, check out www.eao.gov.bc.ca/project/
Tlingit First Nation Natives in Canada have been concerned the mine, owned by Redfern Resources Ltd., would harm an undisturbed wilderness that has cultural and subsistence importance for them. Some Alaskans have feared it would pollute the Taku River watershed and harm fisheries.
The mine's construction phase is expected to create 300 new jobs at the mine. Another 260 direct and indirect jobs will be created for mining operations. The project will result in elimination of the acid rock drainage now seeping from the old mine site, the B.C. government said.
The mine still needs additional provincial and Canadian federal government approval. In addition, a court case filed by the Taku River Tlingits opposing the mine is pending before the Canadian Supreme Court. Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans sent a letter to Redfern last summer asking for more information about 10 unresolved issues involving fisheries, water quality, wildlife and air quality.
British Columbia officials said today the mine's permit includes "stringent conditions" to protect the environment.
"Moving ahead with this mine will bring a variety of jobs to the area, while addressing First Nations and environmental considerations," said Richard Neufeld, B.C. minister of energy and mines.
Daphne Stancil, past project committee chairwoman for Tulsequah Chief Mine assessment in B.C., described today's government action as "approval in principle." The mine still needs to secure a special use permit for the road, a Mines Act permit and a Waste Management Act permit for effluent from the mine site from British Columbia's government, she said.
The state of Alaska will be consulted as work continues, she said.
"We're firmly committed to involving the state," she said. "Everyone understands the importance of the major fishery to Alaska and there will be effort to have the state of Alaska's interests taken into account as we move forward."
The Knowles administration had argued that a management plan for the entire Taku River watershed was needed before a decision was made on re-opening the mine, citing concerns for fisheries downstream.
During last summer's gubernatorial campaign, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski voiced support for a road near the Taku River to help open the mine.
Murkowski's spokesman, John Manly, and representatives with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game couldn't be reached for comment before the Empire's midday deadline. Terry Chandler, president of Redfern Resources, also couldn't be reached by deadline.
Chris Zimmer, U.S. coordinator for the Transboundary Watershed Alliance, said it is unclear why British Columbia's government would approve the mine with the court case pending. He described today's announcement as a "sharp stick poked in the eye of the state of Alaska."
"What kind of guarantees are there that this is going to protect fisheries and water quality? We see none," he said. "What has changed in the last six to eight months to allow this to go forward?"
Redfern proposes to develop a 2,250-ton-per-day underground copper, lead, zinc, gold and silver mine at the old mine site. The company plans to invest $148 million (Canadian) to develop the mine and upgrade the access road.
A central issue around the proposed project has been a 100-mile access road's possible impact on wildlife, traditional use and a heritage trail. Part of the road will be through an area where there is no road.
The conditions on Redfern to address environmental and other concerns are legally binding and include: completing a detailed plan for the construction and operational phases of the mine; limiting use of the gated access road; and aligning the road to minimize impacts on the heritage trail, fisheries and wildlife, the B.C. government said.
The government said it would put some of its resources toward supporting wildlife protection and management in the area and to train members of the First Nation to assist in wildlife management and to seek work in the mining industry.
The approval "is based on serious consultation and accommodation of First Nation interests, more so than any previous resource decision in B.C.," said Stan Hagen, minister of sustainable resource management.
"We have offered to the Taku River Tlingits that the province will work with them to develop a land-use plan for the area," Hagen said. "However, concluding a planning protocol with the Tlingits is not a precondition to the project approval."
The province aims to develop a land-use plan in the Atlin area for the future, the B.C. government said, but developing the plan also was not a precondition to the mine approval. The province said it will work with all First Nations with claims in the region, and will seek participation of other parties including the Yukon, Alaska, and the United States and Canadian governments.
In November 1994, Redfern Resources Ltd. applied for approval to re-open the inactive Tulsequah Chief Mine. The former Cominco-Tulsequah Chief underground mine had operated in the 1950s.
A project approval certificate was issued in 1998, but was overturned in 2000 by the British Columbia Supreme Court, which directed the province to consider the concerns of the Taku River Tlingits.