Court upholds decision on British Columbia mine permit

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Canadian appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that the government permit for a mine near Juneau is invalid because a Native group's concerns weren't addressed.

That means the project certificate for the Tulsequah Chief mine remains quashed. But Alaska may have lost its seat at the table in another part of the ruling, according to environmentalists.

State officials have said they're concerned about potential damage to salmon populations in the Taku River drainage.

The judges last week upheld a lower court ruling that the main government permit needed for the multi-metals mine was improperly issued because concerns of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation were ignored. The provincial government argued that it wasn't obligated to respond to Tlingit concerns until aboriginal land claims are resolved, but the court rejected that argument.

The Atlin-based Tlingits objected to the proposed 100-mile access road for the mine, 40 miles northeast of Juneau, because it would pass through undisturbed wilderness that has cultural and subsistence importance for them.

''This is a great victory for the Tlingits,'' said spokesman John Ward in a news release. ''The Court of Appeal has confirmed our place in the fabric of British Columbia.''

But the judges also ordered disbanding of a project review committee representing a variety of interests, including Alaska's. The Knowles administration has argued that a management plan for the entire Taku River watershed is needed before a decision is made on reopening the mine.

Placing the project review solely in the hands of B.C. ministers is ''scary,'' based on the history of the project, said Chris Zimmer, Juneau director of the Transboundary Watershed Alliance, an environmental organization.

''This is the good-news, bad-news court decision,'' Zimmer said.

Bob King, press secretary to Gov. Tony Knowles, said the administration remains committed to protecting fisheries downstream from the mine.

''We have a lot more questions about this Tulsequah ruling than answers,'' King said.

The Tulsequah Chief mine was closed by Cominco in 1957 and has been leaching toxic metals ever since. Redcorp, formerly Redfern Resources Ltd., now owns the property and has been working for several years to reopen the mine.

B.C. officials said at a hearing in Juneau in December that new mining operations might be the only way to halt the pollution. They said simply ordering Redcorp to clean up the property would create the same infrastructure, including the road from Atlin, needed for mining.

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