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Red Dog Mine Operators Opt for $8M Fine in Wastewater Suit

The Red Dog Mine in 2010. Photo: Alaska Public Media.

The Canadian company that operates the Red Dog Mine in northwest Alaska says it won’t build a pipeline to carry wastewater away from the mine site to the Chukchi Sea, opting instead to absorb an $8 million fine laid out in a 2008 lawsuit settlement.

The settlement came after five residents from the village of Kivalina, about 70 miles northwest of the mine, filed a lawsuit against Teck Resources, which operates the mine. The suit alleged Clean Water Act violations and other concerns about water discharge from the mine, which was being treated and emptied into the Red Dog Creek. That creek empties into the Wulik River, the source of Kivalina’s drinking water.

At the time of the settlement, Teck agreed to explore building a 52-mile pipeline to bring the mine’s treated wastewater to the Chukchi Sea. On Thursday, Red Dog Mine’s manager for community relations Wayne Hall said the company is officially passing on the prospect.

“Today, Teck informed the U.S. District Court for Alaska that following extensive environmental and technical studies, the company has determined that a treated water pipeline is not a viable option and therefore will not be built,” he said.

Hall said Teck spent $1.7 million studying whether or not the pipeline could be built. The firm decided it can indeed be done—not below ground, as that idea proved too hazardous due to shifting permafrost and potential pipeline damage—but instead, above ground. Despite the technical feasibility of the above-ground pipeline, Hall said it won’t be built because it would have “no demonstrable environmental impact.” Ultimately, Hall said it could do more harm than good.

“An above ground pipeline would have numerous technical challenges, such as risks to caribou migrations and other impacts to the tundra and so forth,” he said, in addition to long-term impacts through maintenance and construction.

It would also be expensive, as much as $261 million. Hall said the price tag is well beyond the threshold for acceptable costs, as per the 2008 settlement. It will be up for the court to decide if Teck’s cost estimates are reasonable.

With no pipeline, Teck will have to take the $8 million civil penalty laid out in the suit. That means the Red Dog Mine will continue to empty treated wastewater into the Red Dog Creek, which will continue to empty into the Wulik River, and continue to be used by people in Kivalina.

Millie Hawley is the tribal IRA president in Kivalina. She said the community of about 400 people had just learned about Teck’s filing Thursday. After years of legal struggle, she said residents were not happy.

“I’m disappointed,” Hawley sighed. “I’m still concerned about the drinking water source. Wulik River, it’s been our source of water and fish, and I’m still concerned about the discharge that’s coming out of the Red Dog Mine.”

Hawley said she and others in Kivalina are asking Teck for a face-to-face meeting with representatives from the mine to explain their decision about the pipeline.