JUNEAU (AP) -- Construction of a British Columbia mine that environmentalists say threatens the Taku River could begin as soon as spring 2004, according to the developer.
The Tulsequah Chief mine is on the Tulsequah River a few miles from where that waterway runs into the Taku, a salmon river that empties into Taku Inlet south of Juneau.
The mine is about 10 miles east of the border and about 40 miles from Juneau. It was operated in the 1950s but closed in 1957.
Redfern Resources of Vancouver, B.C. began work to reopen the mine in the early 1990s. The company proposes to mine mostly zinc plus copper, lead, silver and gold.
It has yet to obtain its operating permits but has been granted a project approval certificate, said Redfern President Terence Chandler. At the earliest, construction could begin in spring 2004. He estimates the mine will open about two years after construction begins.
In British Columbia, project developers first must undergo an environmental assessment and receive a project approval certificate. From there they can apply for operating permits.
''There are a couple of conditions that we have to satisfy before we can actually do anything in the way of construction,'' Chandler said. ''One of them is to complete some refined test work on our proposed treatment water discharge. The other condition is to do further test work on the sediments underneath the proposed tailings pond.''
The state of Alaska and the U.S. government will have an opportunity to comment on testing procedures, then will have another opportunity to comment when the test results come back.
''We feel that we will have an adequate opportunity through the permit review process and consultation and final design stages to try and ensure the protection of our resources while also allowing the British Columbia government and the mine to look forward,'' said Cam Toohey, the federal Interior Department's special assistant for Alaska.
Chandler said the tests probably will begin in two to three months.
The tailings pond, where mine waste material would be dumped after minerals are removed, has been a point of concern for environmental groups.
''The tailings pond is literally on the banks of the Tulsequah River, and it's been polluting the river,'' said Chris Zimmer, spokesman for the Transboundary Watershed Alliance.
Chandler said the old tailings stream used by the Tulsequah mine actually was at the nearby Polaris-Taku gold mine, which had been shut down.
''It's easy to say that it's polluting the river, but there's been a lot of research and I don't believe that it is polluting. Most of the tailings that came out of that site were very benign. They were almost like sediments,'' he said.
Redfern's proposed tailings pond is about two miles from the Tulsequah River and about 11 miles from the Taku River. Chandler said the pond is contained and does not sit directly on any Tulsequah tributary.
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