2010 Federal Panel Review

In 2010 an independent federal Panel reviewed Taseko Mines Ltd.’s Prosperity Mine proposal for an open-pit mine at Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), and concluded that it would result in significant cultural and environmental impacts of a range and magnitude that is perhaps unprecedented in modern environmental assessment.  The federal government accepted the independent Panel’s conclusions, and rejected the Prosperity mine application.

“The Panel concludes that the Project would result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title.  The Panel also concludes that the Project, in combination with past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future projects would result in a significant adverse cumulative effect on grizzly bears in the South Chilcotin region and on fish and fish habitat…” ~ 2010 Federal Panel Final Report (July, 2010)

2010 Panel Report Cover

2010 Panel Report Cover

The Tsilhqot’in, other First Nations, federal government experts, the public and the proponent all participated in this independent process, which included in-depth public hearings.

Taseko Mines Ltd.’s (TML’s) proposal in 2009/10 was to drain Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and use this area to store waste rock.  The tailings would have been placed immediately upstream in a massive tailings pond, which would have eliminated Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake), and much of Nabas (the surrounding meadows, wetlands and Tsilhqot’in ancestral homes).  Two alternative mine plans were also presented, which the Panel concluded posed an “even greater longterm environmental risk” than the company’s preferred Prosperity proposal.

“The Panel notes that Taseko examined 2 alternatives that would avoid the destruction of Teztan Biny.  Mine Development Plan 2 [Alternative #2], with the tailings storage facility located upstream of Teztan Biny, would in time likely result in contamination of Teztan Biny.  While Mine Development Plan 1 would preserve Teztan Biny, it would result in mine water discharge to another watershed and could also affect Teztan Biny if Taseko decided in the future to expand the open pit.  While offering short term benefits, the Panel agrees with the observations made by Taseko and Environment Canada that Mine Development Plans 1 and 2 would result in greater longterm environmental risk than the preferred alternative.” (p. 65, Panel Final Report, 2010) (Emphasis added)

The latest “New” Prosperity proposal is actually based on and substantially similar to, the alternative known as Mine Development Plan 2 in the previous review and rejected because of even “greater longterm environmental risk”.

The independent Panel identified serious environmental problems with TML’s plans, concluding that the Prosperity Mine:

  • would cause an irreversible, high-magnitude and long-term adverse effect on the Tsilhqot’in, flowing from the loss of the Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and Nabas areas for current and future use activities, ceremonies, teaching, and cultural and spiritual practices;
  • would result in significant adverse effects on Tsilhqot’in cultural heritage, including the permanent destruction of the island in Teztan Biny, a place of spiritual power and healing for the Tsilhqot’in, and of culturally important historical settlements in the Nabas area, which the Tsilhqot’in have occupied for generations and still use actively;
  • would likely result, even after closure and reclamation, in the irreversible loss of the Tsilhqot’in spiritual and cultural connection to the Teztan Biny area;
  • would have a significant and irreversible adverse effect on established Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights, recognized and affirmed in the Tsilhqot’in Nation (or William) case;
  • would result in a significant adverse effect on the Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah Band)/Sonny Lulua trapline that would be most affected by the mine site footprint;
  • would result in a significant effect on the asserted Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal right to fish in Teztan Biny, as the lake and its fishery would be permanently destroyed and replaced with a waste rock storage area;
  • would result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, effects that would be high magnitude, long-term, irreversible and unmitigable – as stated by the Panel, “the fish and fish habitat compensation plan poses an unacceptable level of risk that raises considerable doubt regarding its ability to meet the requirements of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s No Net Loss policy and to be a functioning, self-sustaining system in the future”;
  • would result in a significant adverse cumulative effect on fish and fish habitat;
  • in combination with past, present and reasonably foreseeable future projects would result in a significant adverse cumulative effect on grizzly bears in the South Chilcotin region;
  • would result in significant adverse effects on asserted Aboriginal title to the area;
  • would result in a significant adverse effect on navigation, causing a complete loss of access to spiritual and cultural sites on the island in Teztan Biny, following the destruction of the lake and the island’s conversion to a mine waste storage area; and,
  • would likely require water treatment well beyond mine closure, and would require perpetual maintenance of components of the fish habitat compensation plan, which will collectively require a substantial and ongoing commitment of government resources for monitoring, treatment, and maintenance in perpetuity.

Reluctantly, we participated in the 2010 Panel review and public hearings.  We shared our traditional knowledge, experience and concerns, at a cost to our communities including high levels of stress, negative impacts to the health of our Elders and the neglect of other priorities and economic opportunities.  The fact that we are in a 2nd federal Panel review for this project is tremendously frustrating and unjustified.  However, we continue to participate in the new federal Panel review in good faith and expect that this threat to our culture and our survival as Tsilhqot’in people will be rejected once again.

Nemiah Valley opens onto Chilko Lake, close to where 2010 Panel Community Hearings held.

Nemiah Valley opens onto Chilko Lake, close to where 2010 Panel Community Hearings were held.