Supporters make their case, challenge critics of Taseko Mines’ B.C. gold-copper proposal
by Greg Klein
While Canadian environment minister Leona Aglukkaq ponders the fate of Taseko Mines’ TSX:TKO $1.1-billion New Prosperity proposal, supporters came out in force at a December 10 Vancouver event. Presented by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, a packed audience of 75 to 80 people included politicians, business people, a union representative, a mining engineer and others. Not invited, apparently, were opponents, among the strongest of whom include six regional native chiefs. But if the event was one-sided, it heard support from a range of perspectives. Among the backers was a Tsilhqot’in band member who challenged his community leaders to call a general assembly on the issue.
The six opposing chiefs won’t do that “because people are going to vote for the mine and they’re scared that the chiefs are going to be proven wrong,” said Ervin Charleyboy, a former Tsilhqot’in National Government chief himself. “I talk to a lot of young people out there and they’re all for the mine. But they’re scared to speak out because they will get intimidated, like they tried to do with me. But I’m not easily intimidated.”
An opponent of Taseko’s original proposal for a gold-copper mine in B.C.’s Cariboo-Chilcotin region, Charleyboy eventually backed the revised New Prosperity proposal on becoming convinced that Fish Lake would be protected. Concern about the 118-hectare body of water, said to have social and spiritual importance to natives, was central to the federal rejection of Taseko’s original proposal. Under that plan, the lake would have been drained for use as a tailings dump.
With a $300-million revision, Taseko now proposes to save the lake by moving the tailings storage two kilometres away. Native opponents, however, maintain the new plan won’t adequately protect the lake and regional watershed.
Apart from criticizing local opponents, Charleyboy said the issue has been clouded by “too many outsiders [who] don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“We have nothing in the Chilcotin,” he said. “We rely on the forest industry but that’s going down fast because of the beetle epidemic…. To this day I’m supporting the New Prosperity mine because I want a future for my grandkids.”
Taseko has now taken its hoped-for mine through two federal environmental reviews. The original proposal passed the B.C. review. The second, revised plan would require an amended certificate from the province, should the feds approve it.
But federal approval remains uncertain following a negative report by a review panel, which again largely concerned itself with Fish Lake. While the decision is up to Aglukkaq, Taseko argues that the review panel completely screwed up by studying a tailings storage model “completely different than the Taseko design.” The company has asked a federal court to declare “that certain panel findings relating to seepage and water quality be set aside, and that the panel failed in certain respects to comply with principles of procedural fairness.”
Speaking at the event was a mining engineer who argued that Taseko’s plan “will not only protect Fish Lake, but it will enhance the quality of the fish that reside in that lake.” John Meech heads the University of B.C.’s Centre for Environmental Research in Minerals, Metals and Materials. He told the audience that the lake “will be protected during the mine operating phase and long-term into the future after closure. And I base my assessment on the design’s seepage rates that are being predicted for the mine that match what happens at two other mines in the area, Gibraltar and Mt. Polley. And anyone who tells you the seepage rates are in error is not telling you the truth.”
Meech said sustainability will be further guarded through ongoing monitoring, review and adaptation. But while standards like these apply in Canada, they’re not universal. “To not bring [New Prosperity] onstream means exporting serious pollution problems to the Third World, who do not practise the modern concepts of sustainable mining. We have an obligation in Canada and British Columbia to produce these materials, to meet the global demands and avoid the serious pollution and social issues that will ensue in developing countries should this production be shifted to those countries.”
Canadian mining has presented problems “in the past, but I emphasize the word ‘past,’” Meech said. The redemption of B.C.’s historic Britannia mine site represents “how quickly we can restore a deteriorating environment at a mine.”
Returning to the subject of native opposition, B.C. mines minister Bill Bennett said, “I believe there’s opportunity, if the federal government says yes to this project, for significantly more engagement with the first nations.”
The province’s revenue-sharing policy “can make a difference,” he added. “It has made a difference in the past. I can give you the names of mines in this province that when I was mines minister in 2005 to 2007, the first nations were vehemently opposed to and today they support.” He said existing agreements provide bands with 37% of provincial royalties, as well as impact benefit agreements with the mining company.
“We want this project to go ahead,” Bennett proclaimed.
But not some others, apparently.
Bennett’s appearance followed the previous day’s B.C. Supreme Court decision that ruled BC Liberal cabinet ministers unfairly rejected another project, Pacific Booker Minerals’ TSXV:BKM proposed Morrison copper-gold-molybdenum mine. Responding to a question from ResourceClips.com, Bennett said his colleagues “made a decision not to grant the certificate on the basis of the evidence in front of them.”
When reminded that the evidence in front of them was a favourable environmental review, Bennett replied, “I’d love to talk to you about New Prosperity.”
On December 12 he begins meetings in Ottawa with 12 B.C. MPs and four federal ministers. The environmental minister wasn’t among those he named. Her decision is expected within the coming months. Should Aglukkaq come to a negative conclusion, the federal cabinet would have to back her rejection.