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Agencies, Fishermen and First Nations See Problems for Salmon and Wildlife


November 02, 2007
Friday AM

The plan to use hoverbarges, "amphitracs," and shallow draft tugs to access the Tulsequah Chief mine in the Taku River watershed in Southeast Alaska has received resounding criticism from regulatory agencies in Canada and Alaska, the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA) and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN). According to a news release from Rivers Without Borders, new information shows Redcorp's hoverbarge proposal poses clear threats to fish and wildlife in the Taku, while the company's technical analysis understates these risks and is full of significant information gaps.

"The Taku is Southeast Alaska's most important salmon river and is no place for a junior Canadian mining company to experiment with risky, untried technologies," said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. "The company's proposal is full of holes and doesn't demonstrate they can protect fish or wildlife. The reactions the company is getting on its plan reflect that."

The US Department of the Interior, Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and TRTFN recently submitted to the British Columbia government a wide range of concerns regarding potential threats to salmon, wildlife and their habitats from the hoverbarge plan and noted significant gaps in Redcorp's technical analyses. These are in addition to critical memos written by Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) biologists in May. The US EPA is expected to submit comments soon and they are expected to also be critical said Zimmer.

UFA, Alaska's largest commercial fishing group, passed a motion at their board meeting October 26 stating, "UFA opposes the Tulsequah Chief Mine transportation plan until such time that the issues raised by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have been resolved in favor of protection of the fishery resource and associated habitat."

Issues raised by agencies and the TRTFN include:

  • "This proposal by Redfern Corp. will damage valuable salmon spawning and rearing habitat which will lead to reduced numbers of salmon returning to the Taku River and the coastal waters near Juneau." May 2007 preliminary memo from ADFG Commercial Fish Division
  • "we do not believe that the documents as currently written, provide sufficient information for us to analyze the potential impacts on resources of concern to DOI; e.g., aquatic resources (including anadromous fish) and migratory birds."
  • "The analyses of potential impacts generally rely on a broad range of assumptions, which as currently presented, are not supported by actual "field experience" in conditions similar to those that will be encountered in the project area." October 5, 2007 letter from US Department of Interior to BC EAO
  • "Conclusions for significant adverse effects are provided in the absence of detailed site information or modeling which supports prediction of effects."
  • "No specific biophysical fish habitat assessments have been provided for the Taku River and the Big Bull Slough."
  • "Proposed mitigation and monitoring of potential impacts within Canadian waters has direct downstream implications to health of fish habitats supporting the fishery. Recommend the proponent conduct a cumulative effects assessment as per CEAA, which includes an assessment of the overall proposed mitigation and monitoring plans to effectively avoid identified impacts to fish and fish habitat and the ongoing fishery." October 5, 2007 letter from Department of Fisheries and Oceans to BC EAO
  • "The analysis of potential impactsfor particularly key species such as moose and grizzly bear is inadequate. A key concern, relayed to the proponent early in the process, is the potential movement across the river ice for these animals and whether the barge operation will result in habitat fragmentation or displacement from riparian habitats. No data have been collected, and no assessment of these potential effectsThe wildlife assessment presented as a "detailed evaluation" in Table 4-9 is purely theoretical" October 8, 2007 letter from Taku River Tlingit First Nation to BC EAO

Rivers Without Borders said this new information comes as Redcorp is preparing to submit permit applications to Alaska. Redcorp will need a Title 41 Fish Habitat permit and Title 38 Land Use permit and must undergo an Alaska Coastal Management Program review, which includes a public comment period and hearing.

"Since Redcorp needs Alaska permits to operate the hoverbarge there is now an opportunity to plan appropriately to protect the Taku's rich fisheries and the economic benefits they bring to Juneau. In September Governor Palin said Alaska agencies would be 'on top of' this issue and we urge her to follow through on that commitment. We urge the State of Alaska to declare a moratorium on permitting for projects like the Tulsequah Chief until BC comes to the table for bi-national watershed planning. We need to provide long-term certainty for Alaskans and enforceable standards for environmental protection and development," said Zimmer.

Zimmer said, while Redcorp is only asking for permits for its Tulsequah Chief property, the fate of the lower river is very much at stake. The Tulsequah Chief is one of several Canadian mining projects proposed for the Taku. Redcorp intends to develop the nearby Big Bull mine and Canarc Resources wants to re-open the New Polaris mine, across the Tulsequah River from the Tulsequah Chief. Zimmer said Redcorp is under cleanup orders from the Canadian federal government for acid mine pollution at its Tulsequah Chief and Big Bull mine sites, while New Polaris is known to have a serious problem with arsenic contamination.

"Redcorp has not cleaned up the toxic mine pollution at both its mine sites and it has not answered the many questions and concerns about the hoverbarge. With this poor track record and with more Canadian mining projects on the horizon, a moratorium on permitting for such projects until a bi-national watershed assessment is completed is vital to protecting Alaska's interests in the Taku," said Zimmer.

On the Web:

Tulsequah Chief Mine

Rivers Without Borders


Source of News:

Rivers Without Borders


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska