Few attended a public meeting to review the environmental assessment of the proposed Tulsequah Chief Mine.
Redfern Resources Ltd., a subsidiary of Redcorp Ventures Inc., has applied to amend its environmental certificate.
The BC government had approved reopening the mine with road access to the site.
But Redcorp changed its plans following protest from the local First Nations and groups concerned about the road’s environmental impact.
Its amended proposal will use an air-cushioned barge to make trips along the Taku River to and from the minesite.
The open house consultation was staged to discuss a 210-page report on the barge, which was released by Redcorp last Thursday.
“The consultation process is much more than this,” said Kathleen Wood, a consultant on the project.
“This is just the first step.”
Beginning on September 17, concerned citizens have 30 days to submit written comments to the BC government.
The air-cushioned barge will be pulled up and down the river by a conventional shallow-draft tug in the summer.
The rest of the time, when the river is too shallow for the tug or frozen, an Amphitrac will tow the barge.
The Amphitrac is an all terrain vehicle that can travel on land, water and ice.
However, the vehicle is still in the design phase and this has some groups worried.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to get tested before it gets on the river,” said Rivers Without Borders spokesperson Andre Gagne.
“The Taku River is very dynamic and it’s a multimillion-dollar fishery environment — it might not be the best place to try it out.”
According to Redcorp’s environmental assessment, the tug and barge won’t have significant environmental impacts.
“We looked at the full range of animals, frogs, birds, right up to big mammals,” said senior wildlife ecologist Laurence Turney.
To limit the effect on eagles, all nesting sites have been documented and a route was chosen so that the barge would maintain a 200-metre buffer zone.
And a bear/human management plan has been created and there will be a no firearms policy established for all Redcorp employees and contractors.
Of particular concern is the effect the transport system may have on moose populations.
“Moose tend not to move from their wintering areas,” said Turney.
“The snow’s too deep. When we went up there in March there was 10 to 12 feet of snow.”
The path created through the snow by the barge may allow predators, such as wolves, to travel more easily during these deep snow conditions to prey on moose.
“We don’t expect any big effects, but we’ll be monitoring for effects where there are uncertainties,” said Turney.
Eagle nesting sites will be kept under observation to ensure that they aren’t being deserted.
And wolf and moose movements will be watched to ensure that there are no adverse effects.
If need be, the barge route would be adjusted to provide an additional buffer.
“Based on our assessment, there will be no significant effects on salmon populations,” said ecologist Bruce Ford.
“There are some uncertainties — we’ll just have to be vigilant in our monitoring.”
A route has been designed to avoid fish-spawning habitat.
And areas have been identified where there is a danger the barges’ wake could strand juvenile fish on shore.
In these areas, drivers will be asked to slow their speeds so as to have as little impact as possible.
“We anticipated that there would be interest in the cleanup of the existing pollution, so we provided info on that as well,” said Redcorp senior environmental engineer Rob Marsland.
The mine was improperly decommissioned when it closed down in 1957.
Since then, acid drainage has been seeping into the Taku watershed.
Redcorp bought the cleanup liability when it bought the mine in the early 1990s.
As soon as the necessary equipment can be transported to the minesite — either through a conventional barge or with the new Amphitrac — acid-generating rock will be relocated to a lined containment pond and an interim water treatment plant will be built.
“We don’t want to be in the business of water treatment,” said Marsland.
“When we shut down the mine, we’ll bury these rocks when we backfill and they won’t pose any more problems.”
As for the open house: “It’s not the attendance we would have liked,” said Gagne.
“We hope that people take more interest in this issue.”
One group’s absence in particular was troubling for the environmental group.
A flight cancellation prevented the BC government’s environmental spokespeople from attending the Whitehorse open house.
“The whole thing came off as a promo,” said Gagne.
“We don’t think that’s very appropriate, having a company official representing BC and Canada.”
“It was beyond our control,” said Environment BC spokesperson Gary Alexander from Atlin on Wednesday.
At the time of his call, the Atlin open house had been underway for half an hour.
And, at that point, no one had bothered to show up.