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article imageCanada's dirty not-so-secret secret might finally be cleaned up

By Stephanie Dearing     Apr 11, 2010 in Environment
The Tulsequah Chief Mine, located in northwest British Columbia, close to Juneau, Alaska, has been a mess for years, leaking acid into the salmon-rich Taku River.
Juneau, AK - The Tulsequah Chief Mine is thought to hold a wealth of zinc, copper, lead, gold and silver. Originally mined in the 1950s, the new mine owners, Redcorp Ventures, hoped to redevelop the project and obtained approval in 1998. The redevelopment plans were vigorously opposed by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, and continued until Redcorp Ventures went bankrupt last March.
The Taku River Tlingit First Nation was most concerned about more acid leaking from the mine into the Taku River with the redevelopment. The mine has been leaking acid for years, and Redcorp was required to clean it up after the company purchased the mine concern.
The State of Alaska has been pressuring Canada for years to clean up the acid leak from the mine. The issue even saw Sarah Palin step in to the ring, in her capacity as Governor of Alaska.
Once Redcorp had bought the mine, it was hoped that the company would take care of the acid, a nasty side-effect of the mining process. Redcorp did make an attempt to shore up the tailings ponds, not winning Environment Canada's approval for the effort, and the anticipated remediation never came about. Redcorp blamed the situation on the remoteness of the mine, and had encouraging words about how, once it had a system of access to the mine, the mess would finally be looked after.
Redcorp was supposed to build an access road to the Tulsquah Chief Mine, something that was also hotly protested by environmental groups and the Taku River Tlingit First nations. Instead, the corporation proposed something called an Air Cushion Barge in 2007. According to Redcorp, its subsidiary "Redfern has determined that an alternate transportation route along the surface of the Taku River may be the preferred option to transport material instead of the approved access road. This new proposal differs significantly from previous Taku River barge options considered during the environmental assessment process, because of the use of air cushion barge (ACB) technology as opposed to traditional low draft marine barge or hovercraft. The ACB and associated tow vehicle can traverse multiple terrain types and therefore is not seasonally restricted to high water events on the Taku River."
The change of plans ultimately meant the death knell for the company because the barge plan prompted more opposition than the road construction had.
Abandoned once again, the mine continues to spew acid into the Taku River, continuing with the 50 year old dirty legacy of the mine.
The Taku river watershed is prime salmon spawning grounds, with five species of salmon spawning in the Taku. The river originates in British Columbia, exiting into the ocean in southwestern Alaska. The Taku River watershed is one of four remaining large tracts of wilderness in British Columbia.
According to Redcorp, "... The environmental issues stem from the discharge of acidic mine waters from the old Tulsequah mine site and have been the subject of previous Warnings and Directions from Environment Canada dating back to 1998. The mine has been in an un-remediated state since cessation of past mining activities in 1957." Redcorp also stated that Environment Canada had issued another clean-up order on May 22, 2009.
While Canadian environmental authorities had been issuing clean-up orders for years, it had also measured the amount of acid leaking into the Taku, finding last year that 190,000 gallons a day were escaping into the rier. According to one Alaskan official, who spoke to the Juneau Empire, the amount of acid is negligible due to the flow of water through the Taku River.
While Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not take any steps to ameliorate the acid leak, other Canadians did not rest. Advocating for a clean-up of the mine, a petition was circulated and submitted to Canada's Auditor General on July 19, 2005. Because Environment Canada responded to the petition and requests, the Auditor General declared the status of the petitions as "completed."
Alaska had asked Canada to let the International Joint Commission to assess the Redcorp mine project, but Canada refused, earning Canada the descriptor of "hypocritical."
According to reports, Redcorp did attempt some sort of clean-up of the waste tailing ponds, which is the main source of the acid pollution, but Environment Canada was not happy with the effort, and required more be done. The company then went bankrupt after that order. The last anyone heard from Environment Canada on the matter was in 2007, when the agency expressed confidence in Redcorp to remediate the pollution.
There are reports that an anonymous buyer has just purchased Redcorp and the Tulsequah Chief Mine. Environmentalists and Alaskans are hopeful that the purchase will mean that at long last, the mine will be cleaned up.
However, news of a purchaser also means that new plans might be afoot to mine Tulsequah's weath.
More about Redcorp ventures ltd, Tulsequah chief mine, Rivers without borders, Tau watershed, Taku river tlingit first
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