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Fifty-plus years of pollution…British Columbia’s: Tulsequah Chief Mine

View looking North from the mine road that connects to the confluence of the Tulsequah and Taku rivers.

Update (2-2-11): A link to a Yukon News story on the Tulsequah Mine – http://yukon-news.com/business/21438/ .

In early June (’10) I took a quick overnight trip into Canada, 60 miles up the Taku River to the confluence of the Tulsequah River, and continued on to the Tulsequah Chief Mine (TCM) site with Ed Shanley.  Ed’s family has had a cabin on Canyon Island, one of the last properties before the border, for decades.  Ed’s knowledge and connection to the area go back to his childhood, and made him a perfect guide for the trip.

The Tuslequah Chief Mine with ore deposits of copper, lead, zinc, gold, and silver started production in 1951 and lasted until 1957; when it closed due to low mineral prices.  The mine and its buildings were abandoned and left to rot, with no pollution abatement for the Acid Mine Drainage(AMD) run-off coming straight from the mine and flowing into the Tulsequah River.  In 1989 Cominco, the owner of the mine was ordered to cleanup the site and provide adequate retaining/treatment ponds for the AMD going into river.  Cominco dodged its responsibilities to cleanup the site until it sold its mineral rights to Redcorp Ventures Ltd. whose goal was to reopen the mine and either build a road to Atlin B.C. or build an as yet untested and unproven hover barge to transport the ore down the Taku River.  Redcorp developed an extensive road from the TCM site to the confluence of the Tuslequah and Taku rivers. All the while taking few, if any, steps to mitigate the ongoing pollution into the adjacent river.   The company went bankrupt in 2009, pulled out all its equipment and sold off assets to repay debtors, with little to no cleanup of the site.  The B.C. government has not forced any cleanup of the site and has been delinquent in requiring owners of the site to stop the ongoing pollution into what would otherwise be a pristine river system.

Ed and I went to the mine site with the goal of documenting it in its current state and to see first hand the level of pollution taking place.  We brought mountain bikes to allow us to cover the most terrain possible, using the relatively new road built by the now defunct Redcorp.  We biked the gravel and dirt road from end to end; 14 miles of switchbacks and meandering rises and drops along the eastern bank of the Tulsequah River.  The ride ended at the confluence of the Tulsequah and Taku rivers where the mine had created a staging area and barracks for the miners.  The site was abandoned leaving buildings, vehicles, mattresses, exercise machines, and office equipment presumably to be reclaimed by the next owner.

As of late April of this year the former CEO of Redfern Corp. has reorganized under a new entity called Chieftain Metals Inc. which ostensibly will be the same company just under a new guise, due to the previous corporation’s lack of assets and inability to live up to debts and financial obligations, like cleaning up the mine site.

The goal of this project is two fold:

1. Help to pressure any new developer and the B.C. government to cleanup the site before any further development of the site goes forward.

2. Raise awareness of the importance of the Taku River watershed and its tributaries.  Ideally through a documentation of the fisheries on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border, and a river float of the Taku from its upper headwaters to document the ecosystem.

The Taku River is home to all 5 species of Pacific Salmon, brown bears, moose, eagles, and many other species that call Southeast Alaska and British Columbia home.  There is no excuse for the wanton pollution over the past 50 years of the natal salmon streams of the Taku watershed.  The Alaskan and B.C. governments have an obligation to protect and preserve a resource that will in perpetuity continue to support native cultures, commercial fisheries, and tourism.  The Tulsequah Chief Mine is a cancerous wound on the landscape and an ecosystem that if left alone will continue to pollute the environment, degrade and impact the future of the region, and impede the health of an otherwise healthy and sustainable fishery.

Taku River looking North toward Canada.

Ed Shanley drives his family's river boat, just before the Canadian border.

 

The road linking the Tulsequah Chief Mine with the confluence of the Taku River.

One of many piles of garbage left by the former mine owner Redcorp.

One of several shafts to the old mine, where acid continues to leach into the nearby Tulsequah.

Streams of acid drainage can be seen flowing downhill from the mine site.

Close-up of one of the many streams that transport the acid mine drainage to the Tulsequah River.

Retaining pond adajecent to the Tulsequah River.

Evidence of the inability of the retaining ponds to hold back the acid drainage from entering the Tulsequah river.

Despite the acid drainage plant life still finds a way to perservere.

 

Another mine shaft leaking acid drainage into the Tulsequah River.

Close-up of a stream flowing into a retainment pond.

Ineffective retainment ponds next to the Tulsequah River.

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26 replies »

  1. Great story, seeing the picks makes it so much more alarming. I can’t believe anyone would consider letting a new operation in before cleaning that all up.

  2. Gotta love them canadian politicians eh, Corporate interests out trump law in canada. Wish them Tlingits would shut them all down once and for all, upsetting to watch, them destroy my great grandfathers land,before they even pay for what they have already stole. Clean up your mess Canada You allowed and continue to allow this illegal trespass into Tlingit territory, that makes YOU responsible.

    • your in the right to be angry about this mine, but now this, that In 2009 Chieftain metals bought the sight. before any mining was done, the company cleaned up the acid rock ponds,and have built a waste water treatment plant at the sight. they don t want to see any more toxic waste enter the taku / tulsequah river water shed

      and no i don t work for the mine i only did a lot of research on it

      • Ian,

        Thanks for your reply and yes, they thankfully are taking steps to help to cleanup the site. I’m not sure exactly what research you’ve done regarding the cleanup of the site, but having been to the site as recently as the summer of 2010, I would hardly call the acid rock ponds cleaned up. The geology of the rock combined with the level of water in the area will combine to create a constant source of pollution that will continue as long as the tailings, rock, and mine shafts are exposed to water and oxygen. At present no technology or process exists to prevent long term pollution created by the mining process, only mitigation that serves to lessen the impacts of the mining process. Chieftain is scheduled to install a water treatment plant this summer, that will treat effluent coming from the existing mine site, only during times of high water flow. Although this is a great first step at addressing the current pollution into the Tulsequah/Taku it is only a short term solution to a problem that could continue for over a thousand years or more depending on the exact geology in the rock and the extent of mining that takes place. Chieftain is in large part run by the same individuals as the previous owner Redfern. Redfern filed for bankruptcy only to default on borrowed money from investors and unpaid bills. One of my main concerns is the corporate connection to the previous company, Redfern, and its disregard of upholding its financial obligations. This in turn gives me great concern about their regard for protecting the environment, if they can’t even protect and honor the money of those investing in their operation. As I’ve stated before I’m not opposed to mining or this mine specifically, just the way that it is proposed and how I fear it will likely be run given the previous owners history of operation; and the geology of the rock and the need for long term treatment of water flowing into the river long after the mine is proposed to close.

        If you have uncovered specific research about the mine’s cleanup of the acid rock ponds and any other cleanup of the site please share it. Thanks again for your input.

  3. Worked on this project for a consultancy that was being paid to show there was no harm being caused. Got so fed up with the pressure to please “The Client”, I left. There is more info. out there……

  4. I lived in Tulsequah as a child. It would be nice to get in touch with anyone who once lived there. I have lots of good memories of that place. Unfortunately a fire distroyed all the pictures we had of the place. It’s sad to see the polution left behind. The world was a much larger place back then and the impact of acid drainage and garbage left behind wasen’t so important because the place was inaccessable. It was the way business was done back then. Hopefully we learn from others mistakes and start to take care of our enviornment.

    • Hi Karen,
      I lived at the Polaris Taku mine from 1949 to 1951. My father was manger of the mine. Remember the Big Bull and Tulsequah Chief mines owned by CM&S. Still have photos of the area plus a few movies.
      Don

      • Hi Don,
        I was too young to be in school at that time but you might remember my brothers Bud and Dick Brown. We lived at the Chief mine in a little log cabin beside the river. I would love to see your photos and movies of the place. Any suggestion on how we can connect with each other.

    • Hi Karen,
      Sorry I don’t remember your brothers. Do remember that the manager of the Tulsequah Chief at the time was named McLean (I have a short video of him steering a boat up the creek to the Big Bull Mine). I’ve promised Chris copies of all the photos and videos I’ve got when I can put them together on DVD. In the meantime, I’d have no objection if you asked him for my email address so I could pass a few photos on to you.

      • Hi Don. My husband is Terry MacLean, son of Jack MacLean, who ran the Tulsequah mine for Cominco late 40s into 50s. Terry was born in 1948 and lived there for seven years with sister Dawn and brother Grant and mother Marylou. Would love to see the videos and any photos you have for Terry’s upcoming surprise 65th bday with rest of family. Please drop me an email. Thanks!

      • Hi Jennifer, I’d be happy to send what I can. I’m reluctant to list my email address but perhaps you could give me a phone call. Should be easy to find me in 411.ca as a resident of Richmond BC. I’ve also asked Chris to send you my email address but he may not be able to do that. Don

      • This is Donna Scott replying to whoever wanted pictures of Tulsequah. Was telling my sister and as I write showing me pictures especially Karen Brown with Mauren Buckley the teacher in the whole school,,,

        If u reply will get in contact with anyone who wants will get out the school photos etc
        Hope to hear from u!!!!!
        Sincerley Donna

    • KAREN NEE BROWN
      IFor sentimental reasons I was just going through the Tulsequah website where my Dad Ernie Rawson worked as a Supervisor in the 50S He passed away last year and was having a sad moment when I came across this website I have ridden my bike to your house and went to the one room school I remember eating at your home!!! I qent to school with Dawn McLEAN whose Dad was Manager until they left. I was very lonely there as the only person my age but think lucky to know about the CMS campsite and they did treat employees well We went back to Trail when they closed and often have wished my family had the warmness and chance to live such an experience. The First of July took weeks of preparation and loved the baseball games. Do not think the old entertain yourself was such a bad thing! My parents who are not with us anymore did keep in contact with many old employees. I also remember the beautiful country It is too bad I found this on such a sour note regarding the atmosphere. If u get this send me a quick email
      NEE DONNA RAWSON and sister Bev

    • Not sure what the ph is coming from the mine site, the Canadians consider it proprietary information. I’ve only found one study, there may be more out there, that looks at mine drainage levels of different effluents coming from the existing mine audits. My guess is that the ph values fluctuate depending on how much water is coming through the water table, e.g. in the form of rain and snow melt. Hopefully studies will be done by the AK Dept. of Fish and Game in the near future.

  5. Hi
    I am concerned about a few misconceptions in previous postings.
    I worked briefly at Tulsequah Chief as a geological consultant in the mid-90’s(?): Redfern Resources days. Everyone there then, in the field and up to top management, was aware of the acid mine drainage issue, and abhorred it. It was left over by Cominco in a time (1950’s?) when no one really thought about such environmental concerns.
    It was my understanding then that Redfern had included in its application for permitting a plan and promise to clean up the acid mine drainage issue. It can be done, with appropriate engineering. For various reasons, they never received the necessary permits to re-start the mine. Without such permits, they could not initiate any such reclamation procedures. Eventually Redfern ran out of investor support, and funds, and folded. I suspect mainly because they couldn’t get permitted to do what they had promised to do.

    So please don’t damn Redfern on this one. Mine reclamation was always a priority for Redfern, and I presume as well for the current management of Chieftan. I know a few guys in senior positions at Redfern/Chieftan, and I know that they would like few things more than to clean up that mine reclamation issue and to tout Tulsequah Chief as a model of environmental stewardship. They are trying. If you want to attach blame, go back to Cominco.

    Just a few thoughts
    Bill

    • Bill,

      Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts on the Chieftain mine project on the Tulsequah. You are absolutely correct that Cominco is responsible for the existing acid drainage problem, and yes it stems from a time when little care/concern went into the aftermath of a mine. Ultimately, it fell on the BC Gov’t to cleanup their land and the mine they permitted on the land, which did not happen with Cominco. However, by purchasing the claim from Cominco/BC Gov’t, Redfern and Chieftain assumed the liability and the acid drainage problem. I am by no means placing blame on Chieftain or Redfern for the existing problem, I simply have many reservations about the project and would like the pollution to stop before any future mining takes place.

      Chief amongst my concerns is what happens when the mine is done pulling ore out of the ground and closes shop? How does Chieftain, or the BC Gov’t for that matter, plan on dealing with the long term problem of acid drainage? To my knowledge there is no effective long-term solutions to the problem, just short term band-aids. As I’ve previously stated I’m not opposed to the mine necessarily, simply the pollution that it is currently creating, all fault and blame aside, and the future pollution that will be created by renewed mining efforts. If Chieftain is under-capitalized and goes bankrupt mid-project, as previously happened with Redfern, what protections do fishermen in the Canada and the U.S. have that the site will be cleaned up? The mine has many historical examples/antecedents of mining gone wrong, that don’t bode well for the watershed.

      I have no doubt that those involved in the project for Chieftain want nothing more than to cleanup the site, but they and their investors are not there for altruistic reasons; they are there to make money by pulling ore from the ground. If they can do so by cleaning up the site, making money, and providing future protections from acid drainage after the life of the mine then they have my support.

      I plan on being back up the river for a few weeks in May and would love to stop by the mine site and see what has transpired since my last visit. If you do have connections with the individuals at Chieftain I would love to make contact with them and arrange a visit to their operation. Thanks again for your input.

      -Chris

      • I am concerned about the Canadian govt. eliminating many agencies that were watchdogs over the mining companies. The Unuk river is threatened with a massive open pit mine, KSM, proposed by Seabridge Corp. In order to access the low grade gold and copper ore, four mountains will be blasted apart, spreading fly ash and accelerating glacial melting. Rock tailings will be located at Sulphurets Creek, a tributary of the Unuk

        A few questions that I cannot get answered:
        Doesn’t Alaska have sovereignty over its water? What agency can help determine that?
        How did the Canadians allow their environmental controls to be eliminated?
        This is a such a fragile area, recently exposed, and to be blasted apart for low grade gold and copper is unbelievable.

      • Victoria,

        Thanks for sharing about the Unuk River, its definitely another troubling project that looms out there. As to your questions. Alaska does have sovereignty over its inland water systems, but from my understanding navigable waters are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Gov’t. The Taku qualifies as a navigable waterway and is also a transboundary river system that falls under a treaty between the U.S. and Canada; as such it is subject to separate laws as well. Canadians haven’t abrogated their environmental regulations, they’ve just simply chosen to not enforce them. Its certainly shocking to think about the consequences of some of these large scale development projects being proposed in Alaska and Canada. I think the best we can do is to make sure that current laws that are in place get enforced and to raise awareness about the issues so that people can express their desire to protect the environment and the communities that the proposed development will inevitably change.

        -Chris

  6. This was an interesting read. My father worked in Tulsequah in the in the late 40’s and up till late in 1957. I lived there from when I was born in April 1957 till September 1957 when he was transferred back to Trail, although I obviously do not remember it there is something about the North that never leaves you.

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