VANCOUVER — The Tulsequah Chief Mine cannot go ahead as its environmental approvals have expired, Taku River Tlingit First Nation and Ecojustice said today. The Taku River Tlingit are also challenging the province’s failure to consult and an improper decision-making process.
The Taku River Tlingit government, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, has filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court to stop the controversial Chieftain Metals proposed project from proceeding further at this time.
The currently proposed Tulsequah Chief Mine project could significantly harm the Taku River watershed, the largest unspoiled watershed on the Pacific shore. The watershed lies within the traditional territory of the Taku River Tlingit, who rely on it to support their culture, economy and community.
“Our government passed a Joint Clan mandate rejecting Chieftain’s proposed project on Nov. 18, 2012, because the citizens of our Nation will not approve any mining projects that are not both environmentally responsible and financially viable,” said John D. Ward, spokesperson for the Taku River Tlingit (see www.trtfn.org under “Tulsequah Chief Project” to view the mandate). “And yet, even though this project would significantly impact our way of life, we weren’t consulted, accommodated or even notified about the environmental assessment office’s 2012 decision to let this mine proceed in perpetuity.”
Under B.C,’s Environmental Assessment Act, Chieftain Metals had until December 2012 to “substantially” start the project before its environmental assessment certificate expired.
In April 2012, Chieftain Metals wrote to the Executive Director of B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) requesting his decision that the mine was “substantially started”. In June 2012, the EAO advised Chieftain of its determination that the project was “substantially started” — even though none of the mine’s main components, such as the underground mining or waste facilities had ever been started. The EAO never contacted the Taku River Tlingit to notify them or consult them about its decision. The Taku River Tlingit are asserting that the decision was wrong.
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that British Columbia is constitutionally obliged to consult the Taku River Tlingit about this specific project.
“Quite frankly, I’m tiring of the words ‘consultation’ and ‘accommodation,’ especially when they seem to mean so little to the EAO,” Mr. Ward said. “In point and fact, we are the owners and stewards of these lands, and if the EAO has legislation stating they must make decisions on our lands then, at the very least, they need to do so jointly with the Taku River Tlingit government.”
The groups seek a court ruling that would declare the proposed project’s environmental assessment certificate has expired and that consultation with the Taku River Tlingit was required.
“This case is aimed at protecting the consultation rights of the Taku River Tlingit and the integrity of one of B.C.’s most ecologically-intact watersheds,” said Randy Christensen, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “Every one of us should feel an obligation to help protect such pristine lands and waters from irresponsible decision-making processes, especially when made in the absence of those who will be most impacted by the decision.”
The Taku River watershed is three times the size of Prince Edward Island and straddles the border between northwestern British Columbia and southeast Alaska. It contains some of the richest wildlife habitat on North America’s west coast and is home to globally significant populations of large mammals like the grizzly bear, wolf, moose, and woodland caribou. The Taku River is also home to runs of all five species of Pacific salmon.