Large open-pit mine developer near AK border asks Canadian regulators for more time

A map showing hypothetical walls
The KSM project’s operational phase mine site layout includes pits to access ore, rock storage, a dam and a water treatment plant provided in 2014. (KSM environmental assessment certificate application)

The developer of what it promises to be one of the largest open pit projects on the continent wants more time from Canadian regulators while it seeks partners to develop its B.C. metals mine about 30 miles from the border.

The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine received regulatory approval in 2014 on the condition that it break ground within five years. It’s already received a five-year extension but now the company says it may need until 2026 to find a development partner.

The gold, silver, copper and molybdenum mine has been compared to Bristol Bay’s Pebble Mine in its scale, wealth and potential environmental risk to Alaska’s communities and fisheries downstream.

Its mine waste would be held in a massive tailings pond — created by a dam more than 780 feet high — taller than the Hoover Dam about 80 miles from Wrangell.

But Frederick Olsen Jr. of the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission says another extension would mean the mine’s environmental assessment would be 12 years old by the time the developer actually got started. 

Their (environmental assessment) was already outdated because, as everybody on earth knows, they were approved before Mount Polley happened,” Olsen said. “You know, when people got a wake up call on that design flaw, a catastrophic, devastating flaw in that type of design.”

He’s referring to the Mount Polley Mine disaster in 2014. That mine’s tailings dam failed, allowing millions of tons of mine waste to spill into B.C. rivers and streams.

Officials in Alaska have been keeping tabs on B.C.’s booming mining sector in transboundary watersheds. 

“I meet at least monthly with B.C. officials, but sometimes more frequently depending on specific effort we are collaborating on at the moment,” Kyle Moselle, of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said in a brief statement.

Moselle says his office was notified by B.C. officials and the Toronto-based developer of the proposed extension.

Representatives of Seabridge Gold did not return messages seeking comment.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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