The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has concluded a four-year receivership for the Tulsequah Chief mine in northern B.C., which faces an estimated $100 million cleanup.
Environmentalists hope the receivership’s end will clear hurdles to expedite the cleanup of the site that has leaked acid-laced run-off for decades.
But it’s not clear if that will happen as the courts handed a lifeline to creditor West Face Capital Inc. The court provided a provision that allows the Ontario-based company to apply to reappoint a receiver until Aug. 11, 2022 on its hopes a buyer can be found for the property.
The Oct. 8 court ruling notes the Taku River Tlingit First Nation were opposed to the reappointment of a receiver as it would have a chilling effect on the cleanup plan and the B.C. government will be reluctant to engage in an expensive environmental cleanup that would benefit West Face and future purchasers.
The B.C. Ministry of Mines had little to say about the court ruling and whether it would clear the way for the cleanup to proceed.
In a response to Postmedia News questions, ministry of mines said it could not comment during the transition period after the Oct. 24 provincial election won by the NDP.
Officials pointed to information posted on its website that included a short statement about the Ontario court decision.
“The ministry will continue to review and pursue relevant legislative options available to the province in the intervening period,” said the statement.
The most recent owner of the mine, Chieftain Metals, went bankrupt in 2016 before being able to restart operations. The mine only operated in the 1950s when owned by Cominco, now Teck Resouces, which could also be a potential source of cleanup funds.
The receivership was driven by West Face Capital, which provides financing to distressed companies. The creditor is owed nearly $62 million, according to documents filed in Ontario’s superior court this year as part of receivership proceedings.
Chris Zimmer with the Alaska-based environmental group Rivers Without Borders hopes the court ruling will not be an impediment to the cleanup.
He notes there was no credible offer to purchase the mine during the four-year receivership and believes it is unlikely there will be one now given opposition to the mine from First Nation groups in B.C. and Alaska and the significant cleanup cost.
“West Face made an ill-advised investment, and despite four years of receivership, the firm is continuing a desperate attempt to sell a mine that nobody wants,” said Zimmer.
Nikki Skuce, director of the Smithers-based Northern Confluence Initiative in northern B.C., said it’s good to see the court process finally resolved but it does cast some uncertainty as to what amount of remediation and reclamation will happen at the Tulsequah site during the next couple of years.
The acid run-off from the Tulsequah Chief mine into the Taku River has been a long-standing sore point for B.C. and Alaskan First Nations and environmentalists, as well as the Alaskan government.
The NDP announced this summer it was putting up $1.6 million to begin remediation work.
A cleanup framework released by the province this summer pegs the cost for site cleanup and long-term monitoring and maintenance at $100 million.
In an earlier response to Postmedia News questions, mine ministry officials said work this past summer would proceed regardless of what the receivership decision was and in the case where the receivership continues any money spent will form a lien on the property.
Responding to Postmedia News questions, Teck Resources would not say whether it had any responsibility for cleanup costs.
“We understand that a number of ongoing legal proceedings with respect to the site will need to come to a conclusion as a long-term approach is finalized,” said Teck spokesman Chris Stannell.
“However, as this process moves forward, we are supportive of the province and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation’s interim reclamation actions at the site.”
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org