Klukwan sues Bureau of Land Management


December 7, 2017

The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan and three regional conservation groups filed a lawsuit Monday against the Bureau of Land Management for violating the National Environmental Policy Act when it approved Constantine Metal Resources mining exploration project proposals.

The other plaintiffs include Lynn Canal Conservation, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and Rivers Without Borders.

Constantine has been conducting mineral exploration on BLM land about 34 miles northwest of Haines since 2006. The BLM approved Constantine’s five-year exploration plan in August 2016. This September, it approved a road extension.

In the complaint plaintiffs argue the federal agency’s decision to advance those proposals didn’t include a consideration of “potential impacts of full mine development while it still has full discretion to ensure protection of the unique values of the region.”

The complaint says BLM must assess future impacts before Constantine proves a profitable discovery. Under the General Mining Law of 1872, if Constantine can prove a profitable discovery, the company will recieve property rights.

The complaint goes on to cite the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), which governs BLM’s management of public lands. A goal of the act, the complaint says, it to protect ecological and environmental values on public lands and in some cases preserve and protect public lands in their natural condition by withdrawing them from regulations, such as the General Mining Law.

“Under FLPMA, the agency’s ability to protect fully the values of the Chilkat watershed, including its discretion to withdraw lands, is constrained or lost in the face of a vested property interest,” the complaint says.

In an interview with the CVN Kenta Tsuda, an attorney from Earthjustice representing the plaintiffs, said the BLM needs to consider the effects of a mine’s development at the exploration stage.

“That analysis has to happen while the agency still has the full discretion to protect these areas,” Tsuda said. “What we’re saying is ‘That is now.’ They can’t wait until the next point because the next point can be too late. That’s our general argument here.”

Constantine’s exploration plan included access to 40 additional acres where helicopter-supported drilling, drill pads and road construction would be built over a five years.

The exploration area and potential site of a future mine, known as the Palmer Project, is next to Glacier Creek. The creek flows into the Klehini River which flows into the Chilkat River, both fish-bearing streams that include all five salmon species.

The complaint says the exploration will likely generate pollution, such as acid mine drainage, that poses threats to the watershed.

BLM spokesperson Lesli Ellis-Wouters said the agency couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

In its environmental assessment of Constantine’s 2016 proposal, BLM Field Manager Dennis Teitzel said hard rock mineral exploration is common to BLM-managed lands and has been occurring in the Glacier Creek area since the 1930s. He said Constantine’s proposal “neither establishes a precedent, nor represents a decision in principle about future actions.”

“There is neither uncertainty nor unknown risk associated with the requested use, particularly at this scale,” Teitzel said in the environmental assessment.

He said the anticipated “minor impacts to Glacier Creek, relative to the entire drainage,” don’t require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.

Teitzel is one of three BLM officials named in the lawsuit as defendants.

Eric Holle, Lynn Canal Conservation president, said even if there’s a low probability a mine would develop, there’s a great deal of risk to the environment should the area be mined.

“It’s the responsibility of the proponent of a given activity to prove they will cause no harm rather than the responsibility falling on the shoulders of those who would suffer harm. To me that’s the layman’s terms of what this is about.”

Constantine found larger than average deposits of copper and zinc along with high-grade silver this summer, but the company says it hasn’t found enough to develop a mine and that it’s still in the exploration phase.

Constantine spokesperson Liz Cornejo said the company needs to better understand the complaint before commenting.

“We’re going to study it right now and understand the complaint and legal implication and go from there,” Cornejo said.

The BLM has 60 days to respond to the complaint.


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2017