Alaskans call on Biden Administration, State of Alaska to ensure comprehensive cleanup and closure of British Columbia mine polluting transboundary Taku River
(JUNEAU)—Alaskans today are cautiously encouraged by two recent steps taken to address the ongoing toxic acid mine drainage from the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine, located in the northwest British Columbia (B.C.) portion of the transboundary Taku River watershed, and to prepare for the eventual closure and remediation of the mine site. But they also note that these are only two small steps. There is still much to be done to ensure the Tulsequah Chief is closed down and cleaned up, and to safeguard the lower Taku River from the threat of additional mining.
According to a June 9 article from the Canadian publication The Narwhal, Teck Resources, which is a responsible party fully liable for mine cleanup and closure, is now contributing about $1.5 million to fund studies and site preparation activities this year. The Tulsequah Chief was abandoned by Cominco (which later merged with Teck to become Teck Cominco, now known as Teck Resources) in 1957. Also, the article quoted an email from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation that stated, “The Chief Gold Commissioner established a no-staking reserve under the Mineral Tenure Act over the Tulsequah Mine area in 2017. As long as the no-staking reserve remains in place, mineral rights cannot be re-staked should they forfeit or return to the Crown.”
“It is encouraging to see the B.C. provincial government establish this no-staking reserve. Once the receivership is concluded in August 2022, this will prevent a re-start of mining activities at the Tulsequah Chief site. It’s also good to see Teck Resources, a legally responsible party, begin to contribute to the cleanup. But there is still a lot to do to ensure the Tulsequah Chief is closed down and cleaned up. We need our state and federal leaders to ensure B.C. provides a clear and detailed cleanup and closure plan, a plan for fully funding the cleanup, closure and long-term monitoring, a commitment from B.C. to ensure the lower Taku River area doesn’t face continued threats from mining, and a seat at the table for Alaskans,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.
In August 2019, the B.C. provincial government released a draft Closure and Reclamation Plan for the Tulsequah Chief Mine Site and appropriated $1.6 million for its activities. In October, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled to halt the long receivership process for Chieftain Metals, owner of the Tulsequah Chief Mine. The court decision is significant because as long as the receivership process was ongoing, B.C. was legally prevented from taking specific measures to assume responsibility for the mine. However, the Court also gave Chieftain Metals’ largest creditor, West Face Capital, until August 2022 to find a buyer for the mine and petition the court to re-start the receivership process.
“Investors must know by now from Alaska lawmakers, Tribes, and coastal fishing communities that the Tulsequah Chief mine in the largest tributary of the Taku River — one of our planet’s last remaining wild salmon rivers — isn’t a viable project, economically, environmentally, politically or culturally. We recognize that British Columbia is moving to take over responsibility for the cleanup and closure of the Tulsequah Chief mine site. But, we’re largely in the dark as to specific details, timelines, funding, and B.C.’s long term plans for the lower Taku River area,” said Frederick Olsen, Jr, Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC). “This is a cautionary tale of the industry for us downstream.”
Since the mine began operating in 1951, there have been three owners of the Tulsequah Chief, Cominco (now Teck Resources), Redfern Resources, and Chieftain Metals. Redfern went out of business in 2009 and Chieftain is in bankruptcy proceedings, so Teck Resources is now the sole remaining responsible party with resources to pay for cleanup and closure. B.C. has already spent $1.4 million in bonds from these companies, so the additional estimated $60.4 million will have to come from Teck Resources and/or the B.C. taxpayer, exemplifying B.C.’s policies that do not require companies to pay full reclamation bonding at the time of permitting. Presently, B.C. has almost $1 billion in unfunded liabilities throughout the Province.
“Teck Resources has committed just 2.4 percent of the total $61.8 million estimated cost of cleaning up a mine that has been polluting Canadian and U.S. waters for more than 60 years, and for which they are completely liable. Tulsequah Chief, and other Teck projects polluting downstream neighboring communities, are prime examples of the inadequacies of B.C.'s mining laws that allow giant corporations to walk away from their messes — leaving it up to B.C. taxpayers and those of us downstream to bear the burden. These laws must change, and polluters must pay. It’s the cost of doing business,” said Jill Weitz of Salmon Beyond Borders.
The funds from Teck Resources will contribute towards work at the mine site this season, including a LIDAR study, other site characterization studies, and repairs to roads and bridges.
“B.C. and Teck should be doing all they can between now and August 2022 to complete studies and other site work, formalize plans for halting the acid mine drainage and reclaiming the mine site, and to make sure that the mine reclamation plan is shovel-ready once the receivership process formally ends,” said Zimmer. “The Biden Administration and State of Alaska need to keep the pressure on B.C. to ensure this happens.”