Canadian mine on Stikine fully operational

The Red Chris mine in neighboring British Columbia passed its final bureaucratic hurdle, after the province’s Ministry of Energy and Mines issued a Mines Act permit amendment last Friday.

The mine’s owning company, Imperial Metals, had earlier been granted its Environmental Management Act Permit on June 15, allowing Red Chris to begin discharging tailings into its tailings storage facility. From there, water can be discharged subject to provincial water quality guidelines.

The Red Chris property is located in the province’s northwest, approximately 11 miles southeast of Iskut village and the headwaters of the Stikine River.

The mine has already been operational since February, when temporary permits allowed it to begin producing copper concentrate. Its plant began its first full 12-hour shift on Feb. 22, milling over 17,000 tons; by month’s end the plant milled over 212,000 tons, producing 2,600 tons of copper concentrate. The first truckloads were transported from the site on March 2.

The announcement marks the sixth major B.C. mine to have started production since 2011, part of a broader push in the province to lay down infrastructure to support job creation. The Red Chris will employ 350 workers, and is anticipated to produce copper and gold at a milling rate of more than 33,000 tons per day over a 28-year project life.

While the economic advantages of the mine are cause for optimism on the Canadian side of the border, downstream the mine’s beginning inspires concern. Even before the devastating tailings dam rupture at the Mount Polley mine last August, environmental groups, commercial fisheries and traditional subsistence users were worried what effects half a dozen sizable mining projects upstream of salmon-producing rivers would have on the land and their livelihoods.

Tens of millions of gallons of metals-tainted water were released into the nearby Fraser River system, affecting its annual salmon run and upsetting thousands of years of traditional use in an afternoon.

“There’s a heartbroken cry in Canada. They’re inconsolable how it happened,” said Aaron Angerman, Tribal Administrator for Wrangell Cooperative Association. Angerman is also WCA’s primary delegate to the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, set up last year by the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes to unite efforts to bring ongoing mining projects under closer scrutiny.

Despite Red Chris passing three independent audits, critics of the mine note design recommendations have not been followed up on, and that attempts to engage with B.C.’s provincial government have not seemed fruitful.

“They’re not really changing course, they’re not really addressing major concerns,” commented Daven Hafey, with Southeast Alaska Conservation Council’s Inside Passage Waterkeepers. The environmental group is one of several that have been engaging the public on both sides of the border with the issue.

“The biggest challenge has been getting legitimate dialogue with the Canadians,” Hafey noted.

Alaska state and civic officials have gotten involved, with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott headed to Victoria, B.C., in early May to meet with provincial officials. No solid agreements were made, but some assurances given that Alaskan concerns would be considered.

A delegation from the UTTMWG also journeyed out, but Angerman said any progress would be made slowly. The group did make contact with members of the Tahltan Nation, whose territory Red Chris is located within. Views on the mine there are divided, but most lean toward favoring the project.

Imperial Metals and Tahltan leadership negotiated and finalized a co-management agreement earlier this year. In a referendum later held in April, 87 percent of Tahltan members who participated were in favor of the deal. Many of the mine’s workforce will be hired from among local residents, and the economic benefits Red Chris represents needed development to the region.

“It’s kind of hard to be opposed when it’s feeding their families,” Angerman acquiesced. Now that the mine is operational, he said the Work Group will continue developing itself as an organization and focus on ensuring safety measures are being observed.

Angerman explained there are other channels to continue the conversation through. The group has bought stock in Seabridge Gold, a mining developer involved with the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine upstream of the Taku River, and has sent a delegate this week to Toronto to participate in a shareholders meeting.

An invitation also remains open for WCA to host any Canadian mining executives and officials interested in seeing the Stikine River firsthand.

“To let them see the community that lives down the river,” Angerman said. So far, no one has taken up the offer.


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