LATEST NEWS Water & Wastewater
March 12, 2012
Website about environmental assessment leads to lawsuit
Taseko Mines Ltd. (TML) is launching a legal action to stop an online campaign by an environmental group, which the company claims is spreading defamatory statements during the federal environmental assessment of a redesigned proposal for a $1 billion mine in central B.C.
“It is in the interest of the environmental assessment process that true and actual facts are discussed and debated, which is why we are taking this action,” said TML vice president of corporate affairs Brian Battison.
“There is no place for false and misleading information. The Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) should be held to the same standards of truth and responsible conduct as we are.”
A Notice of Civil Claim was filed by TML in B.C. Supreme Court on March 1.
It names the wildlife committee and its outreach director Sven Biggs.
The subject of the lawsuit is material published on the WCWC website about the new proposal for the Prosperity gold and copper project, near Williams Lake, B.C.
“We are very disappointed that this mining company has chosen litigation instead of fair and open public debate,” said Joe Foy, national campaign director for the WCWC.
“We believe this court action stifles fair comment about Taseko’s environmentally risky mine proposal. People should be able to enjoy full participation in the Federal Environmental Review process, including the right to comment – without fear of time-consuming and costly litigation.”
According to court documents, TML alleges an online campaign, Saving Fish Lake, which was written by Biggs to oppose the project, is overzealous and contains a series of false and misleading statements.
In particular, the allegedly defamatory statements said the original proposal was to use Fish Lake or Little Fish Lake as a tailings pond for toxic waste by mining operations.
More importantly, TML is concerned these statements are being made during the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) review of the redesigned proposal.
Battison claims people are taking action and writing letters to CEAA that are based on false information from the wilderness committee.
“We have gone to a lot of effort to get the facts out. We have created a microsite to debate the facts. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it must be based on fact,” he said.
“If misconceptions are left unaddressed, they take on a life of their own.”
About 130 WCWC members have written letters to the CEAA opposing the new Prosperity Mine.
Others aren’t so sure that TML’s action will create the type of environment that is conducive to open discussion and public debate.
“We will certainly not be silenced by what appears to us to be a clear attempt to mute opposition and stifle criticisms,” said Tsilhqot’in National Government tribal chair chief Joe Alphonse.
“Both the independent federal panel and the company itself were highly critical of Option 2, which now forms the basis of the current proposal when it was assessed during the 2010 review as a possible alternative – and rejected.”
The original proposal for the Prosperity Mine went through an environmental assessment in late 2010, under the CEAA.
The federal government rejected the proposal because a report by the Joint Review Panel (JRP) concluded the project would have a significant adverse effect on fish and fish habitat, grizzly bears, navigation, the use of land and resources by First Nations and on established Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights.
In August 2011, TML submitted a revised proposal to the federal government.
The key distinguishing feature of the redesigned proposal is a plan to preserve Fish Lake and to reduce environmental impacts by containing mine operations within one single watershed.
According to Alphonse, it is unfair for TML to sue the WCWC, because Battison told the review panel during the initial environmental assessment that Fish Lake would be drained or destroyed and a new lake would be built.
Another TML employee testified that saving Fish Lake was not possible.
He told the panel that water quality in the lake would change due to the tailings facility and the lakes being situated right next to each other.
“The option we are putting forth now will be developed to a far greater level of detail then when it was considered as part of the alternatives, during the assessment process,” he said.
Another reason for the possible preservation of the lake is the higher price of gold and copper, which made the second option economically viable.
The original proposal had a total capital cost of $800 million.
But, the design for new the Prosperity project is predicated on higher long-term prices for both copper and gold, which results in a direct increase in capital costs of $200 million.
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