Kent criticized over second review of huge B.C. mine proposal

Link: Kent criticized over second review of huge B.C. mine proposal

By Peter O’Neill – The Vancouver Sun – November 8, 2011

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Peter Kent triggered a chorus of criticism Monday by announcing a new environmental review of Taseko Mines Ltd.’s $1.5-billion “New Prosperity” gold and copper mine in British Columbia’s central interior.

Our government always balances environmental concerns with Canadians’ top priority — jobs and the economy,” Kent said in a statement. “This environmental assessment will look at new aspects of the proposal while incorporating the analysis from the previous process.”

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which a year ago ruled that a previous Taseko proposal would adversely affect both the environment and native land claims in the area, will establish a panel to look at the company’s new plan.

Kent has given agency a year to complete the process, which will include public hearings.

The panel “will thoroughly assess whether the proposal addresses the environmental effects identified in the environmental assessment of the original Prosperity project,” the agency said in a news release.

The Harper government accepted last year a CEAA panel review which turned down Taseko’s proposal to drain the trout-rich Fish Lake, about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, to use it as a tailings storage area.

The company has come back with a proposal to spend an additional $300 million to build a tailings facility two kilometres upstream from Fish Lake, though critics say it’s essentially the same proposal that was considered unacceptable by both the company and the panel.

The New Democratic Party, affected native groups and environmental organizations denounced Monday’s announcement.

The provincial NDP said pushing through a mining project over the objections of First Nations “will create an atmosphere of distrust and conflict” that will increase uncertainty in the province.

“If we want to do business on the land base we need to build a strong relationship of trust and partnership with First Nations,” said NDP mining critic Doug Donaldson.

Federal NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly said the new panel is a waste of time and tax dollars.

“The previous environmental assessment clearly indicated this project would have major impacts on the environment and local First Nations,” Donnelly said.

The Tsilhqot’in First Nation issued a statement expressing “anger, frustration, bewilderment and disappointment,” though the release also expressed some relief that a full panel process is being created to ensure public input.

“At least the minister of the environment recognizes these must be addressed through a public review panel that ensures full transparency and accountability,” said Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse.

Taseko vice-president Brian Battison, whose testimony at the previous panel in 2010 has been used to try to discredit the new plan, didn’t immediately return emails or a phone call.

The original proposal would have drained Fish Lake, which according to the Sierra Club of B.C. is home to an estimated 80,000 rainbow trout and was once featured on a B.C. tourism brochure.

But the Sierra Club said the new proposal will surround the lake with an open pit mine, rendering the area unusable for up to 33 years.

“This repackaged proposal would be even more environmentally destructive than the original proposal, according to Taseko’s own statements,” said Sierra Club BC executive director George Heyman.

“There is something seriously wrong with our assessment process when a company like Taseko can simply re-submit a mining proposal after it has been soundly rejected.”

Marilyn Baptiste, chief of the Xeni Gwet’in band of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, said Monday she believes politics influenced the decision.

Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Christy Clark have promoted mining as a way for Canada to defy the global economic downdraft.

Taseko’s lobbyists have met with senior federal officials to stress the benefits outlined in a company report arguing that the mine would generate thousands of jobs and increase federal and B.C. government tax revenues by almost $10 billion between the 2013 construction launch to its 2036 mine closure.

And company officials say Taseko will take steps to mitigate the risk posed by the newly-located tailings pond, to be located about two kilometres upstream from Fish Lake.

Critics have cited testimony from the CEAA hearings last March that included Battison’s declaration that the original proposal to drain Fish Lake, which was ultimately rejected by the agency, was the only possible option.

“Developing Prosperity means draining Fish Lake. We wish it were otherwise,” Battison told the panel hearing in 2010.

“We searched hard for a different way, a way to retain the lake and have the mine. But there is no viable alternative. The lake and the deposit sit side by side. It is not possible to have one without the loss of the other.”

They also cite the CEAA report which said the panel agrees with observations by both the company and Environment Canada that the option to have the tailings pond upstream from Fish Lake “would result in greater long-term environmental risk than the preferred alternative.”

This story also appeared on

Did you like this? Share it: