October 8, 2012
Billion dollar B.C. mine enters public input stage
Aboriginal groups are concerned with the hearings procedures for a proposed billion dollar gold-copper mine in central B.C., as the federal regulatory authority asks for public input on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
“It is troubling to us that the draft hearing procedures remove many of the measures that were in place in the previous panel process to respect and include the cultures of affected First Nations,” said Tsilhqot’in National Government executive director Crystal Verhaeghe in a letter to members of the review panel dated Sept 28.
“This is particularly troubling now that we know that the company lobbied the minister to ban Aboriginal prayers, ceremonies and spirituality from the proceedings.”
Taseko Mines Limited submitted the EIS for the proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project on Sept. 26, 2012.
The statement provides an analysis of the potential environmental effects of the proposed project.
Aboriginal groups, the public, governments and other participants have a 45-day comment period to submit their views in writing to the panel on information presented in the EIS.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) took the unprecedented step in November 2011 of deciding the mine project will undergo a new environmental assessment, after the original proposal was rejected by a joint review panel in October 2010.
The panel 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.
Taseko formally submitted an EIS for the new mine proposal on Sept. 20, which includes plans to manage and minimize environmental impacts of the project.
The EIS will form the core of the material reviewed by a three-member panel assessing the project.
In response, the Tsilhqot’in chiefs are demanding some measure of respect for their cultural traditions in the general hearings.
The Tsilhqot’in National Government are extremely upset about attempts by Taseko to pressure the federal government into placing greater restrictions on Aboriginal participation in the review process.
For this reason, they released a letter on May 1 that was written by Taseko president and CEO Russell Hallbauer and sent to Environment Minister Peter Kent late last year.
In the letter, Hallbauer urges the minister to impose new limits on First Nations groups and remove key Aboriginal concerns from the environmental assessment of its revised proposal.
Hallbauer had concerns about how the previous panel conducted the hearing in relation to Aboriginal interests.
For example, he said Aboriginal prayers or ceremonies at the start of panel hearings should be prohibited and prevented from considering the spiritual importance of the area to the Tsilhqot’in people.
He also complained about a presentation or a play given to the first panel by a group of kindergarten children, and wanted to ban Aboriginal video and commentaries that express their views.
Taseko has launched a legal action to stop an online campaign by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC), which the company claims is spreading defamatory statements during the federal assessment process.
A Notice of Civil Claim was filed by Taseko in B.C. Supreme Court on March 1 against the environmental group and one of their employees Sven Biggs, who is an outreach director.
The legal action is over material published on the WCWC web site, which Taseko alleges 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 current review of the new redesigned proposal by the CEAA.
The purpose of the comment period is to obtain the public’s views on the adequacy of the information provided in the statement as measured against the EIS Guidelines.
The panel will determine if the EIS is sufficient to proceed to public hearing based on its own review and on its review of the comments received from the public.
Should the Panel determine the EIS is insufficient, it will request the proponent to address the gaps identified.
The Panel must receive all comments on the EIS in writing by Nov. 11, 2012. Opportunities to present overall views on the project will be provided at the subsequent public hearing.
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