Canada rejects transboundary mine permit protest

Seabridge Gold staff stand in a rust-colored valley that’s part of its Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell exploration project in 2014. A federal agency in Canada has rejected a permit appeal from an Alaska conservation group. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

An Alaska environmental group has lost its appeal of a large Canadian mining project planned for just across the border.

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The developer said the decision shows it’s behaving responsibly. But the conservation group said project owners, and Canada’s government, didn’t follow their own rules.

About a year ago, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council tried a new tool to protest plans for the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell transboundary mining project.

SEACC appealed to a Canadian agency called the National Contact Point. SEACC staff scientist Guy Archibald said it’s supposed to address international business disputes.

“We’re exploring every venue we can to try to protect the transboundary rivers and the communities and fisheries they support from the large-scale development of Canadian mines across the border,” Archibald said.

SEACC tried to convince Canadian authorities that project owners didn’t fully follow guidelines requiring stakeholder engagement and environmental protections.

But last month, that agency rejected that appeal.

“There is no formal requirement for us to engage in Alaska,” Rudi Fronk, chairman and CEO of Seabridge Gold, said.

The Toronto-headquartered corporation owns the KSM — and another British Columbia mine-exploration project.

“The confirmation from the National Contact Point in Canada just clearly reinforces the process we went through during the environmental assessment process, that the engagement we had not only with the Canadian authorities, but also the Alaska authorities, was appropriate and bountiful,” Fronk said.

SEACC acknowledges meetings took place, involving conservation, tribal, fisheries and other Southeast Alaska groups.

But Archibald said the Canadian government failed to look into what happened at those meetings.

The KSM, Red Chris and Galore Creek projects are among several planned for northwest British Columbia, near the Alaska border. (Map courtesy Seabridge Gold)

“They did not consider at all whether that communication between Seabridge Gold and SEACC was adversarial at all. Or particularly informative at all,” Archibald said. “Just that Seabridge had attended some meetings, presented their PowerPoint and that was adequate.”

Seabridge Gold said it’s listened to concerns and made changes in its plans.

For example, it moved its tailings storage site at the request of British Columbia tribal leaders. And Fronk said it added protections to its design for that site, where waste rock is kept after being processed.

“There is no requirement, or there was no requirement, in British Columbia to actually line the tailings facility,” Fronk said. “But we agreed that we would line a portion of the tailings facility to deal with material that went through the mill that would actually touch cyanide.”

The company continues drilling at its KSM site to locate valuable concentrations of gold, copper and other metals.

But its biggest challenge is to find investors and partners to turn the exploration project into a mine.

Fronk said the corporation has turned down several offers because they were not the right match. He said non-disclosure agreements prevent him from identifying those companies.

SEACC, meanwhile, continues to push for high-level talks between U.S. and Canada’s federal governments.

It, other organizations, the Walker-Mallott administration and Alaska’s Congressional delegation want stronger protections for Alaska fisheries.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.