BC Grants Second Extension to Seabridge Gold on Environmental Assessment Certificate

Boundary map of the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, Snowfield and Bruceback projects
A boundary map of the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, Snowfield and Bruceback projects. The large land impressions running through the Kerr and Sulphurets properties are glaciers, icefields and lakes. Image courtesy of Seraphim Blentzas/Grmike.

British Columbia officials have granted a second extension request from mineral exploration company Seabridge Gold for its planned Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) project Environmental Assessment Certificate, requested because the mining company contends it has experienced delays and economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extension was granted in mid-November by Elenore Arend, chief executive assessment officer for B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office. The extension came with a list of conditions, including a detailed development plan.

KSM is an open pit/underground mine proposed just 20 miles from the Alaska border and Misty Fjords National Monument in the headwaters of the Unuk and Mass River systems. The Unuk is a major producer of king salmon and eulachon in Southeast Alaska. The king salmon have been officially listed as a “stock of concern” by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Kyle Moselle, executive director of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Project Management & Permitting, said the state does not provide comments to the Environmental Assessment Office regarding the second extension to the KSM Project Environmental Assessment Certificate.

“This extension request does not change the project design or affect any potential downstream impacts,” Moselle said. “The state was fully engaged in the Environmental Assessment process for the KSM project, which was completed in 2014. Our technical input was considered and addressed by B.C. at that time and the enforceable conditions in the Environmental Assessment Certificate are protective of our downstream interests.”

Officials with the B.C. Environmental Assessment office said that proponents of the KSM mine requested a second extension in April 2020 under the Emergency Variance provisions of the Environmental Assessment Act due to impacts caused by the pandemic that prevented KSM from substantially beginning work required to meet the 2024 deadline in the certificate.

The assessment included a 14-day public comment period, engaging technical advisors and consulting indigenous nations where traditional territories overlap the proposed mine site of other project components. EAO officials said they concluded that granting a second extension was not likely to change the conclusions of the initial environmental assessment.

BC officials were not available for comment before publication, but several Alaskan entities opposed to the mine said they felt second extension showed a pattern of deference to the mining industry.

Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders said that B.C.’s response to projects including significant environmental issues at the Tulsequah Chief and Mount Polley mines showed “an unwillingness to properly apply environmental laws and mining regulations, but a clear willingness to give the industry every break possible.”

The Tulsequah Chief mine, which has been shut for decades, is still leaking acid drainage into transboundary waters and while the B.C. government has begun efforts to halt that drainage it is a project that will take several years. The Mount Polley disaster in August of 2014 sent a massive amount of mining waste downstream into lakes and streams that are sockeye salmon spawning grounds and also provide drinking water.

Frederick Olsen Jr. of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission (SEITC) contends that B.C. went against its own rule of allowing one construction extension per project to allow Seabridge Gold more time to find the investors it needs for the project.

Olsen also noted that the province had passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and is in the process of reviewing laws and regulations in order to add the requirement that indigenous communities are meaningfully consulted on projects that may impact their lands, waters or ways of life. SEITC has requested that B.C. pause all mine approvals until the new law is implemented and issues regarding mine permitting are addressed.