BY RICHARD GILBERT - Taseko Mines Ltd. is disappointed the federal government rejected its proposal for a billion dollar gold and copper mine in the central interior of B.C., so the company is moving forward with a request for a judicial review of the decision.
“We are not alone in our disappointment,” said Russell Hallbauer, president and CEO of Taseko.
“Many others, including the Government of British Columbia and the thousands of Cariboo residents, who have worked hard to support the New Prosperity project, will be similarly discouraged.”
The new Prosperity mine project, about 125-km south west of Williams Lake, completed its second environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act on Feb. 26.
After considering a report by the Joint Review Panel (JRP), Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq rejected the project because it is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that can’t be mitigated.
The proposed $1 billion project involved the construction of an onsite mill and support infrastructure, a tailings storage facility, a 125-km long electrical transmission line, explosives factory and magazine, and an access road.
Cabinet made the final decision that the negative effects are not justified in the circumstances, so the project may not proceed.
The president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. is also disappointed in the decision.
“I think this is bad news for B.C. and the people of the Cariboo. This project could be an economic engine for that region of the province and allow young people to work and live in the area,” said Philip Hochstein.
“This was an opportunity for economic development and rejuvenation, but the federal government has turned their back on them.”
Taseko’s vice president of corporate affairs Brian Battison said the company fundamentally disagrees with the federal government decision and will pursue its federal court challenge of the JRPs final report.
“The minister made a wrong decision on the basis of a flawed report,” said Battison.
“The panel got the wrong information from Natural Resources Canada and the panel relied on this mistake to come up with a flawed conclusion. We have been challenging that since December.”
Taseko filed an application to the federal court of Canada in Vancouver on Nov. 29, 2013, which aims to quash the findings of an Oct. 31 report by the panel that reviewed the project.
Battison and Hallbauer claim the panel used invalid estimates for the volume of tailings pore water seepage leaving the tailings storage facility. This includes the panel’s decision to base its analysis on modeling undertaken by Natural Resources Canada.
For this reason, Taseko wants the federal court to set aside the panel’s conclusion that the construction of the mine will have a significant adverse environmental impact on Fish Lake, fish habitat and ecosystems.
Taseko’s submission to the federal court argues that the design used by Natural Resources Canada is completely different than Taseko’s design, because it didn’t include a low permeability basin liner.
As a result, Natural Resources Canada used the wrong project model and design, which assumed water would leak into Fish Lake through more pervious overburden and fractured bedrock.
In addition, Battison said Taseko is planning to submit an application for a second federal joint review to overturn the decision by the Environment Minister Aglukkaq and the federal Cabinet.
The federal government rejected the original proposal in October 2010 because the project would have drained Fish Lake for the use of a tailings pond for chemical waste.
However, the CEAA decided in November 2011 that the proposed mine project will undergo a second environmental assessment.
Under Taseko’s new plan, an additional $300 million was to be invested to preserve Fish Lake and vital fish habitats by relocating the tailings storage facility two kilometres upstream from the lake and introducing a lake recirculation water management scheme.
The Tsilhqot’in National Government is celebrating the government’s decision to reject the project for a second time. They are strongly opposed the project, because it will have a devastating impact on the environment and violate Aboriginal rights.
“To try and force unwelcome and destructive mining projects at the cost of all other values, including First Nations rights and title, is a path to greater conflict,” said Chief Russell Myers Ross, of the Yunesit’in Government.
“The Tsilhqot’in look forward to protecting Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) as a sacred site, meanwhile developing a broader vision for how to responsibly use the wealth of our lands in our territory. This needs to be the full and final rejection if industry wants certainty.”
The Tsilhqot’in National Government views Taseko’s applications for a judicial review as an attack on the integrity of the panel.
For this reason, they commended the federal government for making a decision that they said is based on science and an independent review process.