Acid Drainage from Abandoned BC Mine Steps Closer to Cleanup

Taku Watershed. Image via Wikimedia Commons: Anoldent CC BY-SA 2.0.

Efforts to halt acid drainage from an abandoned British Columbia mine flowing into the salmon-rich Taku River watershed in Southeast Alaska has come a step closer to resolution, with the future of the Tulsequah Chief Mine now in the hands of the provincial government.

The BC government is currently in its third season of preliminary work at the site upstream of Southeast Alaska and has committed to its environmental cleanup, but efforts were slowed because the Tulsequah Chief’s bankrupt owner, Chieftain Metals, was searching for a new owner for the copper, zinc and lead mine, which ceased operations in 1957.

In mid-August, a court-mandated deadline for that to happen ended for West Face Capital, the creditor that had hoped to find a buyer for the mine.

The conclusion of the receivership process is a major milestone said Kyle Moselle, executive director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting within the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, who has been in continuous discussion with his counterparts of the BC government over halting the acid drainage into transboundary waters.

“This site has had issues for over 50 years,” Moselle said.

“A lot of people have worked hard to get where we are today. Now is the time to have some optimism and patience,” he added. “It takes a lot of time resources and money to go in and correct pollution and instability at sites like Tulsequah Chief.”

“We have reviewed the reclamation plan and environmental risk assessment,” said Moselle, who said he meets virtually on a regular basis with his Canadian colleagues. “They have contracted with capable consultants who are giving them the information necessary for a reclamation plan that can be implement on the ground.”

Since 2018, the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation has been working with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation on minimum reclamation at the mine site. This year marks the third consecutive summer field season in which interim reclamation works occurred at the site.

Breanna Walker, director of Salmon Beyond Borders in Juneau, said her organization is thrilled that the last bureaucratic hurdles had been cleared.

“While we are optimistic this source of acid mine waste contamination will soon be brought under control it does not obscure the fact that this took far too long and much larger mines loom on the horizon” she said. “In the Taku watershed alone BC is allowing mining speculators to stake hundreds of square miles of claims literally right up to the U.S. border, and the situation is even worse in the Stikine and Unuk watersheds.”

In the Unuk, 88% of the BC side of the watershed is staked with mining claims she stated.

Communities across Southeast Alaska have passed resolutions calling for a “time out” on mineral claims staking and development and a tailings dam ban in watersheds shared by the two nations.