OverviewProject Map CEA Project Status BCEA Project Status
The Tulsequah Chief project is a proposed underground mine located on the banks of the Tulsequah River, near the river’s juncture with the Taku River in northwest British Columbia, approximately 30 km from where the Taku River crosses the US/Canada border. To access the site, Chieftain Metals proposes to either construct a 128 km/80 mile haul road to connect the Tulsequah Valley to an existing road near Atlin, B.C., or use barges up the Taku River to access the site from southeast Alaska. The company estimates the Tulsequah Chief mine would operate for 9 years, with over 700,000 tonnes of rock a year moved through an onsite process plant. Acid generating tailings waste would be stored in a tailings impoundment beside the Tulsequah River.
Despite the fact that the Tulsequah Chief project received an Environmental Assessment Certificate, and obtained all permits for mine and road construction, the project still faces significant hurdles. Small-scale historic mining at the site has drained acid mine pollution into the Tulsequah and Taku Rivers since the 1950s. Chieftain Metals began operating a water treatment plant in December 2011, but shut it down due to high operational costs and sludge production that outstripped the company’s capacity to manage it. The project still faces considerable financial, technical and political obstacles, including unresolved acid mine pollution, violations of agreements and at least one permit, no major financial commitments from investors, and increasingly strong opposition in Alaska and from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) in B.C. In November 2012, the TRTFN formally opposed the Tulsequah Chief project by consensus in a Joint Clan Forum, and Ecojustice filed a petition on behalf of the TRTFN in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. On July 11, 2014, the Court ruled that the BC government erred in its May 30, 2012 decision to make the Environmental Assessment Certificate permanent for the Tulsequah Chief mine. The Court ruled the determination of whether the mine was started must be done again and it must also be done in consultation with the TRTFN.
The Taku River is the transboundary region’s number one salmon river, and the proposed Tulsequah Chief Mine would be sited immediately above some of the best salmon habitat in the entire Taku watershed. Both Alaskans and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in B.C. have raised numerous concerns about the Tulsequah Chief project related to impacts on wildlife habitat, and salmon spawning and rearing habitat. The maze of channels, marshes, and backwaters straddling the international border is vital for salmon spawning and rearing. Some two million salmon annually pass through waters in the vicinity of the Taku’s juncture with the Tulsequah River. Development of the Tulsequah Chief would be in a geologic setting ripe for generating acid. This means a probability of acid and heavy metals toxic to fish flowing downstream from the inevitable runoff, leaks, and spills of the mine operation. Add the remoteness of the seismically active site, plus extreme weather, avalanches, and jökulhlaup events, and bigger problems are not unlikely. A tailings impoundment blowout, for example, could be catastrophic to fisheries.
The proposed 128 km haul road connecting the Tulsequah Valley to an existing road south of Atlin would open up remote Taku River Tlingit First Nation territory to outsiders. The road would cross salmon streams, bringing sedimentation, and wildlife conflicts would be inevitable. A new road would allow additional mine proposals poised for development to move forward, bringing the threat of industrial development to what is essentially a pristine, highly productive and sensitive watershed. While Chieftain has now said they will use the barge option to access the mine (flip-flopping from a previous decision), barging is not a more environmentally friendly option. None of the barging efforts by Chieftain in 2011 and previous mine owner Redfern in 2007 and 2008 worked as planned and Chieftain’s own access report concluded in 2011 that none of the barging options were practical. The threat of salmon habitat damage from groundings and accidents, as well as spills of diesel fuel, cyanide and other chemicals, raises significant concerns on both sides of the border.