Bush administration changes stance on Tulsequah mine

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The U.S. Department of Interior has dropped many of its objections to the proposed reopening of a British Columbia mining operation near here.

The policy shift is in sharp contrast to worries by Gov. Tony Knowles about the potential impact from the Tulsequah Chief mine on the 2 million salmon produced annually on the Taku River.

Plans for the British Columbia mine were put on hold after a provincial court ruled in favor of an Indian tribe challenging the project.

The Canadian Tlingits claimed an environmental review of the project was flawed and the project could damage the tribe's territorial hunting and fishing grounds.

Part of the tribe's objection centered on a proposal by the mining company, Redcorp, to build a 100-mile road from the mine site to Atlin, B.C. The road would cut through undisturbed wilderness that has cultural and subsistence importance for B.C. Tlingits.

Alaska officials are also concerned about how mine debris tailings upstream from important fish rearing areas could effect lucrative salmon fisheries as well as water quality. The state has asked for a watershed study on the Taku River before the project is approved.

A year ago, Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backed the state in its concerns. But Interior recently reversed its position.

Cam Toohey, special assistant on Alaska issues to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, told the Juneau Empire that watershed studies aren't required of Alaska mines.

He added that the United States should not tell Canada where it can build a road, Toohey said. ''I certainly don't want Canadians telling us where to build a road,'' he said.

There has been adequate analysis of the tailings disposal and toxins that are leaching from the abandoned mine now may be mitigated by the resumed mining operation, Toohey said.

Environmental groups opposed to the mine were critical of the policy turnaround that came after the Bush administration entered office.

''There's been no new science indicating fewer environmental problems than previously thought,'' said Chris Zimmer, of the Transboundary Watershed Alliance. ''It looks like Interior's really backing off a number of its concerns.''

For the past seven years, Redcorp has been trying to reopen the mine which last operated in the 1950s. It is located about 40 miles northeast of Juneau.

The company, formerly known as Redfern Resources Ltd., estimated it would produce 56,000 ounces of gold, along with silver, lead and zinc. It would support 600 full-time jobs for at least a decade, the company said.

An appeal of the Canadian court decision is pending. Meanwhile, a project review committee has been gathering more information on the proposed mining operation and area wildlife and fish.

Alaska and B.C. officials will hold a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the proposal. The meeting will be held from 7-10 p.m. in the Treadwell Room at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau.

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