British Columbia gives tentative approval to Tulsequah Chief Mine

Posted: Sunday, December 15, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The government of British Columbia has approved the proposed Tulsequah Chief Mine 40 miles northeast of Juneau and 60 miles south of Atlin in northwestern B.C.

British Columbia officials said Friday the mine's permit includes ''stringent conditions'' to protect the environment.

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.

Gov. Frank Murkowski's spokesman John Manly said Murkowski wants to see the mine operated in an environmentally responsible way.

''Gov. Murkowski has generally been supportive of this mine as a senator and as a candidate,'' Manly said. ''We are obviously going to be very cautious here on how the water quality and fish habitat of the Taku River drainage are affected by this.''

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. 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 acid rock drainage now seeping from the old mine site, the B.C. government said.

''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 Friday'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 administration of former Gov. Tony Knowles had argued that a management plan for the entire Taku River watershed was needed before a decision was made on reopening the mine, citing concerns for fisheries downstream.

Chris Zimmer, U.S. coordinator for the Transboundary Watershed Alliance, a 22-member coalition supporting healthy ecosystems in the transboundary watersheds of Canada and Southeast Alaska, said it is unclear why British Columbia's government would approve the mine with the court case pending. He described Friday'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 nearly $100 million 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 government said it would put some of its resources toward supporting wildlife management in the area and toward training members of First Nation to assist in wildlife management and mine work.

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