Updated: Feb 16
Two important things recently happened in our long campaign to end the Tulsequah Chief mine's pollution of the Taku and to safeguard the watershed from future mining threats.
First, on August 12 BC's Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources released a plan for permanent closure and clean up of Tulsequah Chief. It also announced that money has now been allocated to carry out preliminary actions of that plan. To be sure, we are still a long way from a once again totally pristine Taku. It should also be clarified that the plan is by no means final, as preliminary work and further on site studies with it will inform long term remediation actions. But BC's restated remediation commitment, and a plan and funds to back it, are a huge stride forward. That BC has now gone public with its intention, has a plan in place, and has secured funds for preliminary work, is most encouraging.
Second, and very much related, two days ago a hearing was held in an Ontario court to determine if bankrupt Chieftain Metals' receivership status should be extended, as requested by the holding company, or finally ended after four years as requested by the Province of BC and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN). Chieftain, the latest company trying to develop a new Tulsequah Chief mine, was incorporated in Ontario, thus that locale for the hearing. The receivership status has complicated governments ability to take action on the ongoing mine pollution. The lawyer for BC was strong on the need to close Tulsequah Chief and end its pollution. The lawyer representing the TRTFN made a good case for the importance of doing this from a First Nation perspective. On the other side, the holding company wants to leave open the possibility that receivership proceedings could recommence in the event an interested buyer appears (which is perhaps slightly more possible with a mine getting cleaned up as opposed to abandoned and polluting and in violation of law). Based on questions and comments from the judge and the fact that four years of effort by the receiver have failed to produce a buyer, we are hopeful the court will decide enough is enough. A decision is expected in a few weeks. But again, the fact that the next day BC publicly underscored its commitment to ending Taku pollution speaks volumes about where we see this heading. There is now real momentum on behalf of the Taku!
Rivers Without Borders and Indigenous partners issued the following press release today.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 13, 2020
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders, 907/586-2166 Zimmer@riverswithoutborders.org
John Morris Sr., Douglas Indian Association, 907/635-0686
Rob Sanderson, Jr., Chair, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, 907/821-8885
Frederick Olsen, Jr, Executive Director, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, 907/738-7319
PLAN FOR TULSEQUAH CHIEF MINE CLOSURE AND CLEANUP IS MAJOR MILESTONE: BC Asks Bankruptcy Court to End Receivership Process to Pave Way for Mine Closure
(JUNEAU) This week British Columbia (B.C.) made significant progress toward the closure and cleanup of the abandoned and polluting Tulsequah Chief mine in the transboundary Taku River watershed. Yesterday the Province released a cleanup and closure plan for the mine. It also announced funding for preliminary cleanup steps. And at a Tuesday hearing in front of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, both the Province and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) asked the court to end the receivership process, which started in 2016 when mine owner Chieftain Metals (incorporated in Ontario) went bankrupt, and allow B.C to take responsibility for mine remediation. After more than 60 years of polluting a world class salmon watershed, two bankruptcies, four years of receivership proceedings and a lot of promises, we are finally seeing real progress toward mine cleanup and closure,â€ said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. We have some concerns with the closure and cleanup plan and as to how and when the plan will be implemented. But between B.C.'s strong demand to end the receivership process and the release of the cleanup and closure plan, there is real momentum toward ending pollution from the Tulsequah Chief.
"It is good to see B.C. recognize the widespread opposition to the Tulsequah Chief on both sides of the border and increasing demands for both an end to the long-standing acid mine drainage and a full closure of the abandoned mine. But this is by no means a done deal, and we urge Alaska's leaders to protect Taku salmon by ensuring B.C. conducts a full cleanup and closure," said John Morris, Sr., an elder of the Douglas Indian Association.
"Way back in 2015, B.C.'s Minister of Energy and Mines said all the right things when he visited the mine site and promised to clean it up, yet we still have a mess," said Rob Sanderson, Jr., Chair of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC), a consortium of 15 sovereign Tribal nations located in Southeast Alaska. It's now encouraging to see B.C. starting to follow up on that promise. A successful mine cleanup here could build trust and good will between Alaska and B.C. to address other transboundary mining issues.
The receivership process has hindered B.C.s efforts to take over the mine, stop the acid mine drainage and close down the mine. Both the Province and TRTFN noted in court that the mine owner Chieftain Metals and its main creditor, West Face Capital, have made little effort to halt the acid mine drainage, that no credible offers to buy the mine have been received during four years of receivership, and that the ongoing pollution violated Provincial and Canadian federal laws and mine permits. Both urged the court to end the receivership process to allow B.C. to take full responsibility for mine closure and cleanup. West Face asked the court to continue the receivership process indefinitely so that it could continue efforts to sell the mine. A decision is expected within a few weeks. West Face made an ill-advised investment in a risky mine project that at the time already had one bankruptcy. They've had four years to sell the mine without any success, yet they want to continue that process indefinitely, said Zimmer. It's clear the Tulsequah Chief isn't a viable mine, economically, politically, socially or environmentally and there is no support in B.C. or Alaska for mine development.
The Taku River is usually Southeast Alaska's largest overall salmon producer, with Southeast's largest run of coho and king salmon, and is a vital regional economic, cultural and recreational resource. The Taku is the traditional territory of Tlingit people on both sides of the border. The Douglas Indian Association is the federally-recognized tribe in Alaska and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation is based in Atlin, B.C. Both have traditional territory in the watershed, and both have long been calling for closure and cleanup of the Tulsequah Chief mine.
For decades, Tribes, First Nations, fishermen, businesses, and others on both sides of the border have sought to end the Tulsequah Chief threat to Taku River salmon. "It's good to finally see B.C. make some kind of official progress," said Frederick Olsen, Jr, Executive Director of SEITC. "But this is what 'abandoned' looks like: taxpayers pay for the planning and cleanup of a toxic site, whenever that happens. Alaskans need to continue watching to make sure the Tulsequah Chief cleanup finally occurs."