Protesters Block Access To BC Mine As It Nears Completion

A nearly-completed British Columbia mine in the Stikine River watershed is expected to begin full production at the end of this month. Meanwhile, protesters blocking access to the controversial Red Chris mine may be forced out Tuesday.

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Imperial Metals owns the Mount Polley Mine in eastern British Columbia, where an August tailings dam break spilled an estimated 2 billion gallons of silty water into the Fraser River watershed.

Now, Imperial’s Red Chris Mine, near the Southeast Alaska border, is raising concerns with groups on both sides of the border.

The Klabona Keepers, a group of Tahltan First Nation members living near that mine, are blockading its access road.

Red Chris’ owners were recently granted a temporary injunction against the blockade.

But Klabona Keepers spokesperson Rhoda Quock said that order is still a victory.

“For one, the companies usually walk into the courtroom, they get their court injunction, and they get their enforcement order. What they didn’t count on is that we had people in Vancouver to go into the courtroom and challenge it. And they didn’t get their enforcement order that day,” Quock said.

The Red Chris copper and gold mine is in the Stikine River watershed, upriver from Wrangell and Petersburg. Groups on both sides of the border are worried its tailings dam might be too similar to the one that spilled contaminated water and sediment into the Fraser River system.

For now, Klabona Keepers protesters continue blockading at the mine. When the enforcement order goes into effect, the police can act on the injunction and force them to leave.

An earlier blockade of the mine ended with an agreement between the Klabona Keepers, Imperial Metals and the Tahltan Central Council.

Protesters left the mine in August when Imperial Metals agreed to pay for an independent review of the Red Chris tailings dam. The Tahltan Central Council chose the reviewer. British Columbia will not issue final permits for the tailings dam until the review is complete.

The review is still pending, but protesters returned two weeks ago.

Quock said the blockade went back up after the group learned more about the impact of the Mount Polley dam breach.

“Red Chris is only 18 kilometers from our community. And not only that, once the dam breaks, it’s going to go into [the] Klappan. [The] Klappan goes into [the] Stikine. And that will affect our salmon,” Quock said. “It will also affect everyone downstream; it will affect their salmon.”

Vancouver-based Imperial Metals did not respond to requests for an interview.

In its injunction application, the company stated, “Red Chris has been forced to severely limit its construction activities at the project site, and if the blockade continues, will be forced to halt them altogether.”