Southeast Alaska entities want faster cleanup of acid-leaking B.C. mine

Southeast Alaska tribes, commercial and sport fish harvesters, tourism businesses and others are calling on the federal government and Alaska’s congressional delegation to put more pressure on British Columbia to clean up an abandoned transboundary mine that has leaked acid mine drainage for 66 years. 

The letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said none of the actions taken to date by the province of British Columbia have reduced the acid drainage flowing from the Tulsequah Chief mine into the transboundary Taku River system, a vital regional economic driver. The cultural, subsistence and recreational values of the Taku fishery would be difficult to overstate, signers of the letter said. The Tulsequah Chief, which lies some 20 miles from the Alaska border and 40 miles from Juneau, is a rich source of copper, lead and zinc. 

Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders Alaska campaign office in Juneau, said that his organization has continued periodic talks with officials from the B.C. government, and that transboundary mining issues were discussed during a meeting of miners in Juneau in June.  

“We got a letter back afterwards saying B.C. is committed to cleaning up the Tulsequah Chief, but we don’t have a clear schedule for that cleanup,” Zimmer said. “They could not say when they would start the real cleanup.”  

Provincial officials working on the issue were not immediately available for comment. 

“Where the leaks are coming from is not the issue,” Zimmer said. “The leaks are coming out of the holes in the mine and running down the hill into the river. There is still not enough certainty here. The deadlines keep changing. We need to see a clear plan.”  


Zimmer said that transboundary river issues were discussed twice annually in federal government talks between the two countries, but it had been a constant battle to get attention for the matter.  

“With salmon runs severely impacted by oceanic environmental factors that cannot be corrected at present, we must do all we can to protect critical freshwater salmon habitat,” the letter to the State Department, EPA, Blinkin, and Regan said. “Ending Tulsequah Chief’s pollution of the Taku is very doable, will help salmon stocks, and is long overdue for the Taku’s world class salmon habitat.” 

In their letter to the State Department, EPA and Alaska congressional delegation, signers of the letter said that since none of the actions taken by the province to date had reduced the acid mine drainage they would like to see the province’s commitments to cleaning up that mine backed up by a clear, enforceable schedule for cleanup. They also urged the provincial government of B.C. to give no further consideration of developing a new gold mine in the same area until pollution from the Tulsequah Chief has ended. 

“It is alarming to learn that British Columbia has recently initiated an environmental review process for the proposed New Polaris gold mine, also in the lower Taku and almost within sight of Tulsequah Chief,” the letter said. “That the province could be contemplating a new mine at that locale, given the decades of unabated acid mine drainage from Tulsequah Chief, its bankruptcies, broken promises, failed attempts at barging and continued delays in the cleanup despite Alaska’s urgings, seems unconscionable.”  

“This situation leads us to question the province’s commitment to closing and cleaning up Tulsequah Chief,” the letter said.