Chieftain Metals Inc.‘s recent closure of its water treatment plant at the Tulsequah Chief mine site near Atlin, B.C., has attracted the ire of conservationists.
Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders has opposed the project from the beginning. He sees this development as “the last straw” in the company’s involvement with the mine.
“This is the final indicator that this just isn’t a viable mine,” he said, explaining that the project has faced a “host of roadblocks.”
The water treatment plant was installed in November to address problems of acid run-off in the historic mine. It became operational in January.
In April the company received a discharge permit. According to the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, discharge from the plant has met water quality standards.
On June 6, the company wrote Environment Canada informing them of their decision to suspend plant operations. The plant uses too much cleanup chemicals, produces too much sludge and costs too much to staff, the company asserts.
Present operating costs greatly exceed the company’s original forecasts. In mid-June, representatives from the company met with the ministry to discuss their intent to shut down the plant. Operations stopped on June 22.
Representatives of Chieftain Metals were not available for comment. President and CEO Victor Wyprysky said in a press release at the time of the receipt of the permit that the water treatment plant demonstrates the “high importance (the company) places on community and stakeholder concerns.”
Zimmer is not convinced, and said the company has suspended operations largely due to insufficient finances. In 2009 the company estimated the plant’s annual operating costs at $1,077,069. Current annual costs are $4,352,808.
That’s no surprise, said Zimmer. He thought the company was “on [its] last legs.” In March, they posted a quarterly loss of over $5 million, and have consistently lost money since June 30, 2010.
Beyond financial concerns, stopping operations at the treatment plant violates the company’s B.C. Environmental Management Act permit. They have provided a review of the project and revised their operating plans and forecasts. Yet the ministry says it has not yet seen a plan to bring the company back into compliance with its permit.
Zimmer also expressed concerns about how this will influence the region’s aquatic life.
“(I) don’t think we’re looking at an imminent natural disaster,” he said. Still, he worries about how the plant’s closure will affect the fish downstream from the site. Acid from the historic mine has proven toxic to the area’s juvenile fish, and the site is located in the middle of prime salmon territory. He believes the solution to cleaning the old mining site requires participation on both sides of the Alaska-British Columbia border.
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