B.C. developing remediation plan for Tulsequah Chief mine

The B.C. government is making good on its pledge to take responsibility for an abandoned mine that has been leaking acidic water into nearby rivers for the past 50 years.

The B.C. government is making good on its pledge to take responsibility for an abandoned mine that has been leaking acidic water into nearby rivers for the past 50 years.

After an inspection last September at the Tulsequah Chief mine south of Atlin, the province started developing a remediation plan, B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett told the News on Tuesday.

“I’ve ordered a closure and remediation plan to be done with the proceeds we have in trust from the bankrupt company,” Bennett said.

The mine was never properly shut down after several years of mining in the 1950s, resulting in acid mine drainage — acidic water and metals — flowing out of the mine.

Two mining companies tried successively to restart production but both went bankrupt, the latest being Chieftain Metals Inc. last September.

While the remediation plan is being developed, Bennett said the province has to wait to see what the creditors that still have legal rights to the mine will do.

“We can’t just suddenly get rid of their legal rights without due process,” Bennett said. “I’m prepared to close and remediate that site if no other company comes in and accepts the responsibility.”

The September inspection reports found that the camp near the mine was left for the most part unsecured.

“Theft and vandalism is a potential concern given the site is relatively accessible and there is no caretaker on site,” the report reads.

Inspectors also found exposed chemicals at the abandoned water treatment plant.

As part of its water licence Chieftain Metals had to treat water flowing out of the mine before releasing it, which it did for six months in 2012 before shutting down citing higher than anticipated costs.

“The risk those chemicals could have leaked or gotten into the natural environment has been eliminated,” Bennett said.

The exfiltration pond, which used a filter cloth to capture sludge, isn’t working anymore: the filter is likely clogged, with water flowing out of the pond into the river.

“There is significant concern that the pond is not being properly managed and may pose a risk if not immediately mitigated,” the report reads.

Alaska environmentalists including Rivers Without Borders (RWB) have been calling on B.C. for years to remediate and close the mine.

Bennett acknowledged it was a “bad situation” that both B.C. and Alaska inherited because the mine was built before any remediation legislation was put in place.

But he took issue with claims the mine was contaminating the Taku and Tulsequah rivers.

“We’ve been testing the water for at least 10 years,” he said. “The river or the fish are not suffering environmental damage in the meantime.”

The water that comes out of the mine is highly toxic, according to the inspection report.

But because of its relatively small volume, it’s not harming the fish or the river, Bennett said.

“The amount of water in the Tulsequah and Taku river(s) is so large it’s immediately diluted and there is no trace of it,” he said.

But Chris Zimmer, RWB’s Alaska campaign director, said Bennett can’t back up his claims.

“While we’re not claiming it’s been a major serious killer of fish, there is no way the minister has evidence to say it’s not affecting the river,” he said.

“Just because we don’t see a whole bunch of dead fish belly up floating down the river doesn’t mean this discharge isn’t harming the fish population in the river.”

Leaving the acidic water flowing out of the mine isn’t not a long-term solution, Bennet said.

“If we take that step (of closing it) we’ll make sure that it’s done properly and that you have something that lasts forever.”

An assessment of the risks to water and fish that Chieftain Metals was supposed to do before it went bankrupt will be done next spring and summer.

“The findings from the study will determine whether or to what extent mine effluent may be impacting the environment and provide a foundation for next steps,” according to the B.C. environment ministry website.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

During our recent conversation, John Nicholson showed me snapshots of his time working on the Yukon riverboats 70 years ago. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: Yukon man relives the riverboat days after seven decades

John Nicholson took summer work on Yukon steamers in the 1950s

Whitehorse City Hall at its Steele Street entrance. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Change of plans approved for city hall

Project would see 1966 city hall demolished

A city map shows the property at 107 Range Road. The zoning is now in place for developers to proceed with plans for a Dairy Queen drive-thru. If plans proceed on schedule the new restaurant is anticipated to open in October. (Cyrstal Schick/Yukon News)
October opening eyed for Dairy Queen

Will depend on everything going according to plan

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Artist’s rendering of a Dairy Queen drive-thru. At its April 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved a zoning change to allow a drive-thru at 107 Range Road. Developers sought the change to build a Dairy Queen there. (Submitted)
Drive-thru approved by Whitehorse city council at 107 Range Road

Rezoning could pave the way for a Dairy Queen

Joel Krahn/joelkran.com Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

Most Read