First Nation submits legal challenge against proposed Tulsequah Chief mine

Image from Taku River Tlingit First Nation
Image from Taku River Tlingit First Nation

Atlin – A lawsuit filed on December 17 by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation could void the Environmental Assessment Certificate for the proposed Tulsequah Chief mine.

The proposed project would redevelop an earlier mine, operational in the 1950s before being abandoned, and has been a controversial subject since it was first proposed more than 20 years ago. The mine would operate in the heart of the traditional territory of the Tlingit people, on the banks of the Tulsequah River, a major tributary to the Taku River.

Teeming with salmon and other wildlife, the Taku watershed is of great cultural and economic importance to the Tlingit people. The First Nation worries the proposed mine could potentially harm commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and the Tlingit way of life.

The legal challenge asserts the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) erred in its determination that granted the Certificate for the life of the mine, and asks that the decision be quashed, causing the Certificate to expire. Without the Certificate the Tulsequah Chief project cannot proceed.

“This legal action could invalidate the key permit for Tulsequah Chief and stop the project,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders. “This lawsuit is the latest, and possibly most serious, obstacle to a mine that has been controversial and faced major problems from the beginning.”

The Certificate is arguably the most important permit for a Canadian mine. Under BC law, mining projects must be “substantially started” within five years of issuance of the Certificate, with the possibility of a one-time extension of up to five years. If a project is deemed substantially started, the Certificate becomes permanent for the life of the mine. If a project has not been substantially started within the time limit, the Certificate expires and the project cannot proceed.

The expiration of the Certificate would mean other existing government approvals and permits for the mine are void, including the permit for the access road, and the government would be prohibited from issuing any new permits. A new Environmental Assessment may be required to obtain a new Certificate.

The lawsuit questions the government’s May 2012 decision that the project was “substantially started,” and it also asserts that, despite a Supreme Court ruling requiring formal government to government consultation, the BC government did not consult with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in making that decision.

“It’s not surprising to see a legal challenge because the Taku River Tlingit were not consulted or even notified of this determination,” said Zimmer. “There has been no significant construction at the Tulsequah Chief site and most of the mine components permitted in the Certificate haven’t even been started because Chieftain hasn’t had the financing.”

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