Company behind Mt. Polley disaster to open mine near Southeast Alaska Fishermen, Native groups concerned – by Anna Bisaro (The Juneau Empire – August 8, 2014)

After the tailings pond dam breach at Mount Polley on Monday morning, Southeast Alaskans are worried about another Imperial Metals Corporation mine already being constructed at the headwaters of the Stikine watershed, one of the largest salmon producers in the Tongass National Forest.

The Red Chris Project, an open-pit copper and gold mine, is being constructed in northwest British Columbia near the Iskut River, a major tributary of the Stikine River. The Red Chris is predicted to process almost 30,000 tons of ore per day for 28 years, according to the Imperial Metals Corporation website.

“In Southeast Alaska, we will absorb nothing but risk,” Brian Lynch of the Petersburg Vessel Owner’s Association said. “We have everything to lose and nothing to gain.”

Lynch said that, after Monday’s incident, the fact that the Imperial Mines Corporation is also at the helm of the Red Chris Project increases concern for the Stikine watershed. The Stikine is an important salmon-producing river for the Tongass National Forest.

“A breach like this would be a disaster,” Lynch said of the Red Chris Project. “These systems produce a lot of salmon for our billion-dollar-a-year industry.”

Tailings dams, like the one that breached at Mount Polley, hold toxic waste rock after the copper and gold is harvested from the mine.

Because of the harmful chemicals they contain, “tailings dams have to last forever,” said Guy Archibald, mining and clean water coordinator at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. The Mount Polley tailings dam was only 14 years old. Tailings dams tend to fail more than water dams do, he said.

“Sooner or later they are going to fail,” Archibald said. “It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’”

The tailings dam at Red Chris will be 330 feet tall and will need to hold 183 tons of toxic tailings, according to the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office website.

Imperial Metals did not comment on plans to prevent a similar failure at Red Chris by press time.

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