November 21, 2011
Battle over proposed copper and gold mine starts to escalate
The conflict and confrontation surrounding a revived proposal for a $1 billion dollar gold and copper mine in central British Columbia is starting to escalate, after workers with Taseko Mines Ltd. were stopped from entering the site and undertaking exploratory work on Tshilhqot'in territory.
“Wishing to avoid a confrontation, Taseko employees turned the equipment convoy around and did not pursue the work they were permitted to undertake,” said Russell Hallbauer, Taseko president and CEO.
“As a result of this confrontation, Taseko has initiated legal proceedings against the individuals responsible for the obstruction and is seeking an order restraining them, or any other individuals, from unlawfully interfering with the company’s lawfully approved work.”
Taseko claims it was illegally stopped from entering the project site on Nov. 12.
Workers were planning to start extensive exploratory work, which includes roadbuilding, drilling, excavation of test pits and timber clearing. For this reason, Taseko went to court to obtain a restraining order against Chief Marilyn Baptiste and other individuals, who stopped the workers.
In contrast to this version of events, a report from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network said Baptiste had peaceful discussions with Taseko employees through several RCMP officers and they agreed to turn around.
She pulled up next to the convoy and told RCMP officers in a cruiser that the Taseko contractors and employees would not be welcome on Tsilhqot’in Nation territory.
“Our people are deeply frustrated that having defeated this project last year, we are now faced with having the company once again cause extensive destruction – using permits issued in breach of our consultation rights – in an effort to promote a mining option that TML (Taseko Mines Limited), Environment Canada and the first federal review panel have all clearly stated is worse than the company’s preferred plan,” said Marilyn Baptiste, the elected chief of the Xeni Gwet’in, one of the six bands that comprise the Tshilhqot’in Nation.
The nation filed an injunction against Taseko in B.C. Supreme Court on Nov. 14 to stop the company from undertaking exploratory work, in support of a resubmitted proposal for the new Prosperity Mine.
According to court documents, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations issued an approval (2011 Occupant Licence to Cut) to Taseko on Oct. 31, which allows the company to clear an estimated 1048 cubic metres of timber.
The Ministry of Mines also granted an approval (Notice of Work) to Taseko on Sept. 29 for extensive work throughout the project area including: the excavation of 59 test pits; geotechnical and diamond drilling and the construction of a 23.5 km dirt road. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) ruled earlier this month that the New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine project near Williams Lake, B.C., will undergo a new environmental assessment.
This means the B.C. government issued permits to undertake preliminary construction work five weeks before it was even known if there would be a second federal environmental assessment of Taseko’s new proposal.
The Tsilhqot’in filed an application for a judicial review in the Supreme Court of B.C on Nov. 10 to invalidate or suspend the work permits issued to Taseko by the provincial government, on the grounds that they were not properly consulted and their serious concerns were ignored.
“Despite the potential impacts of the exploratory work on proven, established and asserted Tshilhqot’in Aboriginal rights, and the clear importance of this matter to the Tshilhqot’in and Xeni Gwet’in, the Crown failed to discharge its duties of consultation,” said Baptiste.
The Tshilhqot’in were informed of decisions by the provincial government weeks after approvals were granted and they did not receive any rationale explaining how Aboriginal rights were considered and addressed.
“These failures have fueled conflict rather than promote reconciliation,” said the court document. The federal government rejected the original proposal in October 2010, because the construction of the mine would have significant adverse environment impacts.
Taseko’s original plan called for Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) to be completely drained and filled with waste rock.
Y’anah Biny (Little Fish lake) and Nabas (the surrounding area) would have been inundated and destroyed to create a tailings pond for chemical waste from the mining process.
The project would have an adverse effect on fish and fish habitat, on grizzly bears, on navigation, on the use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on established Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights.
The original proposal had a total capital cost of $800 million, but the new proposal increases capital costs by $200 million.
The project is expected to generate 375 jobs per year, during the two year construction period.
The project involves 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.
The Tsilhqot’in people have a deep mistrust of government since their chiefs were arrested under false pretences and hanged after the Chilcotin War of 1864.
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