Alaska mine regulators want to be informed on Chieftain Metals’ plans to treat acid rock drainage at the old Tulsequah Chief Mine in British Columbia.
As KTOO has reported, the company shut down its interim water treatment plant last month due to unanticipated costs, telling Canadian regulators it needed to improve plant operations as well as raise money to run it.
In a letter this week to Chieftain, Alaska Large Mine Coordinator Kyle Moselle urged the company to quickly resolve the problems and bring the plant back online.
“And as they’re working through those challenges and working to bring it back on line, I would appreciate it if they kept me in the loop so that I can be responsive to interested public and agencies on this side of the border,” Moselle said.
Acidic water has been draining out of the old mine into the Tulsequah River, a tributary of the Taku River, for more than 60 years. When Chieftain purchased the property two years ago, it inherited the problem and the B.C. government’s requirement to clean it up.
The state has no jurisdiction over the project, but regularly conveys Alaska’s concerns to Canadian environmental officials, including the Taku River’s importance to the commercial, sport and subsistence salmon fishery.
“We’re not regulating this mine; we’re essentially looking over the fence on a project happening in our neighbor’s yard,” Moselle said. “So I want to be kept in the loop on what’s happening, sure, because we want them to be responsive to our concerns about potential downstream effects.”
Chieftain installed the water treatment plant last fall; it’s been operating since December. B.C. environmental officials say water quality from the old mine was significantly improved while it was running. But the company says it has spent more than $9-million on the plant. Chieftain has reduced the number of workers at the mine site while it looks for ways to reduce the costs of operating the facility.
In an email response to Moselle, Chieftain Metals’ Chief Operating Officer Keith Boyle quoted a company news release about the suspension. Boyle also said he would keep Moselle informed as the company works the bugs out of the water treatment system and secures financing for it.
Mine critics call Boyle’s response “totally inadequate,” but Moselle says he’s satisfied. He hopes to get the same information Canadian regulators get from the company.
Last year Juneau’s legislative delegation created the Taku River Task Force to gather information about possible industrial development in the watershed. Rep. Beth Kerttula says the delegation is watching the latest developments as the company continues to study re-opening the old mine, which is likely the solution to ending the acid rock drainage.