Province initiates Tulsequah mine cleanup

Government report estimates remediating defunct mine at $65 million

The abandoned Tulsequah underground mine near Atlin, B.C. has an acid rock drainage problem that could cost $65 million to fix. | BIV archives

Five years after the Ministry of Energy and Mines ordered a now-bankrupt junior mining company to clean up an acid rock drainage problem at the Tulsequah mine near Atlin, B.C., the provincial government is taking the initial steps to remediate the defunct mine.

It promises to be a long and costly effort. A report prepared for the ministry estimates the capital cost of closing the mine and doing the reclamation work at $48 million. The cost of annual monitoring and maintenance is estimated at $27 million.

The Tulsequah Chief underground zinc-gold-copper mine operated from 1951 to 1957. A junior mining company called Chieftain Metals had acquired the mine and hoped to restart it.

But in 2015, the Ministry of Energy and Mines issued stop work orders and ordered the company to address concerns with water from the mine site making its way into the Tulsequah River. Following a site inspection, the ministry found a number of permit violations.

The mine had no tailings pond for managing legacy mine waste, and the company was found to be discharging water from the mine site directly into the river. The company was ordered to clean up the site, but in 2016 Chieftain Metals went bankrupt.

It was the second company that had tried and failed to restart the mine before going bankrupt. The public is now on the hook for $65 million cleanup and monitoring bill.

The province has earmarked $1.7 million for site preparation and studies required to reclaim the site.

"The environmental issues at the Tulsequah Chief Mine site have gone on for too long," Bruce Ralston, minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, said in a news release. "But after working in partnership with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and the government of Alaska, I am pleased to see we now have a plan in place and can get to work on reclaiming the site."

The province has been working with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation on a plan to restore the mine site and address the acid rock drainage problem. The initial work will require replacing and repairing bridges, improving an access road and repairing an airstrip.

“This work is required to prepare the site in order to address environmental, health and safety issues and undertake the long-term remediation,” the ministry said.

The ministry plans to conduct “a multi-year aquatics monitoring program” and assess the potential for an “interim” water treatment plant.