MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian Fish Lake Spared

Published by MAC on 2010-11-08
Source: Statements, Postmedia News, Globe & Mail & others

The MAC website has for some time been following struggles by Canada's Tsilqot'in First Nation and other Canadian First Nations  to halt the Prosperity mine in British Columbia.

Our last posting was just a month ago: Canada's Tsilhqot'in First Nation affirms mine "will never be accepted"

Now, Canada's federal government has refused approval for the mine - citing in particular the likely destruction of three water bodies on which the Tsilqot'in are dependent.

Just before this welcome decision was announced, a columnist for the leading Toronto daily,  Globe and Mail, attacked the "questionable logic" used by the provincial government of British Columbia to justify the project in the first place.

Mark Hume criticised Robin Junger, executive director of British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Office, for dismissing the impacts of throwing mine wastes into a drained-out Tetzan Biny (Fish Lake) as having only one "significant adverse effect".

According to Hume, Junger's report "goes on at some length about what the mining company [Taseko Ltd] plans to do to compensate for destroying a lake - and he makes it sound like the Chilcotin environment will be better off for it."

"Compensation" myth

Junger had dubbed the plan - which would have involved supposedly creating a new lake - "fish compensation works."

Of course, this is exactly the kind of language that not only Taseko Ltd, but much of the mining industry, had wanted to hear.

The world's biggest mining company, BHP Billiton, received a similar setback in Australia last month, as a New South Wales' committee withheld permission for a huge coal mine.

It  failed in its argument that there would be only one major negative environmental impact from its operation, and which could be offset by its performing various "good works".

Both these decisions highlight major flaws in the concept of "compensatory" environmental protection - now being trumpeted by several mining companies as they position themselves at the heart of commitments made at the recent COP10 conference on preserving global bio-diversity. See: World's biggest miner knocked back in Australia

Even as Canada shoved out the Prosperity mine, another British Columbia project was being shovelled through. 

The Mt Milligan copper-gold open pit operation had essentially already been approved, though it still requires one or two further permits. The mine is also being challenged in court by the Nak'adzli First Nation,which claims that the community's land and waters risk being destroyed.

[Commentary by Nostromo Research, with input from MiningWatch Canada, 7 November 2010].

Fish Lake Spared: Federal Government Acknowledges Negative Effects of Controversial Mine and Upholds Responsibility to First Nations

MiningWatch Canada Release

3 November 2010

Ottawa - The Federal Government announced today that it would not approve Taseko Mines' proposed open pit gold-copper mine in the traditional territory of the Tsilhqot'in Nation, 125 km west of Williams Lake, BC.

Following extensive review and consultations an independent review panel appointed by the Federal Government found that the proposed Prosperity mine would have significant negative effects on the Tshilqot'in Nation and on the environment, in particular on fish and grizzly bear habitat. One of the most controversial aspects of the proposal was the destruction of Fish Lake, Little Fish Lake and Fish Creek for the mine's waste disposal areas. The panel saw no way for the company to effectively address these impacts.

MiningWatch Canada was an active participant in the review process and submitted several written briefs, made oral presentations, and questioned other presenters during the public hearings. "We were very pleased to see many of our concerns about this project reflected in the Panel Report," commented Ramsey Hart, who led the group's analysis of the project. "We are even more pleased to see the government respect those findings and rejected the project. Looking ahead, this decision will help establish the limits to acceptable practice for mine proponents."

The federal government's decision is in line with two other environmental panel reviews in 2007 and with federal policies on the protection of fish habitat, species at risk, and sustainable development. It also reflects international and Canadian constitutional requirements regarding the rights of First Nations.

The Federal decision is contrary to the British Columbia government's approval and support for the project. Accepting the federal decision will, however, allow the province to avoid a challenging confrontation with the First Nations that vowed to stop the mine.

The Government attempted to soften the announcement for industry and the BC government by re-announcing the approval of Thompson Creek Metals' Mt. Milligan open pit gold-copper mine in central BC. This project was approved in December 2009 after undergoing a Federal "comprehensive study" environmental assessment but remains controversial and is strongly opposed by the Nak'adzli First Nation. Nak'adzli has filed an application to the Federal Court of Canada requesting a judicial review of federal decisions to permit the project to proceed.

Ramsey Hart Canada Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada

See also:

Our page on the proposed Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine:

Official Announcement "Government of Canada Announces Decisions on Mount Milligan and Prosperity Gold-Copper Mines":

First Nations Rejoice in Federal Rejection of Taseko Mines Proposed Prosperity Mine

Tsilhqot'in Nation Press Release

2 November 2010

Williams Lake, BC: The Tsilhqot'in National Government and its' community members are rejoicing in today's decision by Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice against issuing permits for the proposed Prosperity mine in central BC. This ruling will serve as a catalyst for reform and a new relationship between governments, the mining industry and First Nations.

"The federal government has honoured its Constitutional duty to protect First Nations rights and its responsibility to protect the environment. The government should be commended for recognizing that this project did not represent the best way to create jobs and economic growth," said TNG Tribal Chief Joe Alphonse.
"The Tsilhqot'in Nation understands the need for jobs in the region and believes it can work with municipalities and others to build on the environmentally friendly economic activities that are sustained by Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and its environs and already contribute so much to the area."

Xeni Gwet'in Chief Baptiste said: "Perhaps there are other projects that can be considered. As we have always stated, we are not against resource development of any kind, just extraction at any price that leads to the destruction of our ecosystem for our future generations," "However, we hope today's decision will demonstrate the need to find a way forward for industry and governments to work with First Nations from the outset to identify and develop projects that are environmentally and culturally acceptable and sustainable."

The fact that a company would spend so many years and so much money to develop and promote this Prosperity project, despite the clear and legitimate First Nations along with DFO's objections, demonstrates the need to reform BC's free-entry, on-line staking system," said Chief Baptiste. "This proposal could not have been more guaranteed to alienate First Nations."

Chief Percy Guichon said "it in no one's interest to continue with a system that encourages the development of proposals that should never be pursued, instead of focussing on projects that have reasonable prospects. Companies waste exploration and development dollars, government waste tax dollars and First Nations are forced to use up scarce financial resources to defend against bad or unfair proposals."

"One of the main reasons there has been no major new metals mine open in BC since the mid 1990s can in large part be attributed to a system that allows anyone with a computer and a few dollars to access anywhere it wants on First Nations unceded lands and develop whatever proposal they want - no matter how environmentally unviable, and not matter how unacceptable to our people," said Chief Joe Alphonse.

Chief Joe Alphonse added: "Another reason is a provincial environmental review system that does not allow our people to fully participate and does not address the issues that we as first nations need to address. However, there are examples of companies working with other First Nations to address these concerns and to develop projects and agreements that can stand the test of time,"

"Those agreements are positive examples that can be built upon. The federal government decision today will inspire efforts to reform the system in BC to the benefit of all,"

Ottawa blocks one open-pit mine in B.C., approves another

Postmedia News

2 November 2010

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice has turned down a controversial proposed Prosperity gold-copper mine south of the Interior B.C. city of Williams Lake, saying the mine would devastate the entire ecosystem.

OTTAWA - The federal government has turned down a controversial proposed Prosperity gold-copper mine south of the Interior B.C. city of Williams Lake, saying the mine would devastate the entire ecosystem around environmentally and culturally sensitive Fish Lake.

But federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice will allow a separate gold-copper mine, the Mount Milligan Project, to go ahead as planned in northern B.C. about 155 kilometres north of Prince George.

The British Columbia government had supported both mining ventures.

In Ottawa Tuesday, Prentice said the Prosperity proposal, put forward by Taseko Mines Ltd., "would result in the destruction of Fish Lake, and as a result, the destruction as well of the complex and highly productive ecosystem that included not only the lake, but dozens of connecting streams, wetlands and aquatic life."

The Prosperity proposal includes an on-site mill, a tailings facility, a transmission line, explosives factory and access road, and would cover 35 square kilometres in the Teztan Yeqox (or Fish Creek) watershed, which drains into Fish Lake, Little Fish lake and nearby areas.

Prentice acknowledged that a refusal to endorse the Prosperity project would mean lost jobs. "Certainly we are concerned about the economic consequences obviously, and the company is at liberty to re-submit a proposal to try in some way to resolve or ameliorate the recommendations of the panel in terms of the environment."

Environmentalists and aboriginal groups strongly oppose the mine, and in January 2009 the federal government appointed a review panel to study its feasibility.

It concluded the mine would "result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title."

B.C., however, arranged its own environmental assessment and approved the project earlier this year. Prentice said Prime Minister Stephen Harper had informed B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell of the federal government's contrary decision.

Prentice said the federal environmental assessment of the second project, Thompson Creek Metal Co.'s Mount Milligan mine, isn't likely to cause significant environmental problems. B.C. had reached a similar conclusion.

"Thompson Creek Metals Company has adopted, in the case of Mount Milligan, highly consultative and a collaborative approach," he said. "The result is a responsible, successful project proposal and the government of Canada commends this approach and encourages other resource companies to follow this example."

Potential harm makes Fish Lake mine a difficult choice

First nations leaders have to consider environment

By Shawn A-In-Chut Atleo

Vancouver Sun

15 October 2010

With a federal decision pending on the future of Fish Lake in British Columbia, the Assembly of First Nations is calling for continued dialogue with first nation leaders in the region.

We continue to stand proudly behind the Tsilhqot'in government as they defend their traditional territories and ways of life, despite suggestions from local politicians that the Taseko Mines Ltd. project near Williams Lake should be a "no-brainer" for the six communities it will directly impact.

To suggest that first nations in the region should welcome a mining project based solely on its potential for economic growth would mean abandoning a host of rights and responsibilities.

First nations have a responsibility to the land and with that hold constitutionally protected rights. As stewards of the land, as mothers, grandmothers, uncles and aunties, the Tsilhqot'in exercise their responsibility to provide for future generations in an environmentally sustainable way.

An independent panel of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency concluded the mining project would permanently destroy lands and waters at Fish Lake. The panel reported that the mine would negatively impact fish habitat, local wildlife, navigation and traditional land use, devastating the surrounding environment and permanently threaten the rich heritage of the territories of the Tsilhqot'in Nation.

Let's be clear -- first nations are not opposed to economic development and see the benefits in terms of growth and job creation in communities, but it's got to be done in an environmentally balanced way -- and in a way that's right for everyone involved. This means discussions and dialogue with local first nations to ensure their rights, citizens and future generations are protected.

The citizens of the Tsilhqot'in nations are standing up, as leaders in their communities, and in a way that could be considered an example for similar scenarios taking place across Canada where the duty to consult with first nations has not been fulfilled.

In the absence of government discussion with the Tsilhqot'in government, the Assembly of First Nations is strongly encouraging the federal government to engage the local communities in adequate consultation before a decision is made, particularly when first nations have repeatedly expressed their willingness to be part of the discussion.

An effective dialogue could spark a strengthened relationship required to continue our work together as governments and nations.

With the decision on the Taseko Mines project at Fish Lake, Ottawa has an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to environmental protection and a renewed relationship with first nations.

Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

UBCIC's Protecting Knowledge Conference site:


Flawed logic justifies the destruction of Fish Lake

By Mark Hume

Globe and Mail

31 October 2010

When the British Columbia government gave environmental approval to the controversial Prosperity gold-copper mine in December it used questionable logic, saying the operation was acceptable because the damage would be limited.

"There is only one significant adverse effect and it is limited to a discrete location," wrote Robin Junger, associate deputy minister and executive director of the Environmental Assessment Office.

Where would that "discrete location" be? Behind a tree somewhere? Under a small rock?

Hardly. The one significant adverse effect turns out to be the utter destruction of Teztan Biny, a fishing lake revered by local native bands. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, looking at the same mining proposal, would later note that Teztan Biny, or Fish Lake, is "integral to the Tsilhqot'in culture."

Mr. Junger's recommendation to approve the mine, which the provincial government quickly adopted, dismissed the concerns of native groups with remarkable ease.

He described the mining company's plan to drain the lake and fill it with slag as "fish compensation works (involving the dewatering of a lake and the creation of a new one)."

Mr. Junger's report goes on at some length about what the mining company plans to do to compensate for destroying a lake - and he makes it sound like the Chilcotin environment will be better off for it.

"Creation of a man-made lake, Prosperity Lake, of similar size and depth - development of self-sustaining population of rainbow trout [through a hatchery] - additional stream habitat and a spawning channel," he writes.

Mr. Junger's report looked at some other troubling aspects of the proposed mine, but concluded that seepage of tailings into groundwater and broader impacts to wildlife will have "no significant adverse effects."

On those issues he expressed confidence in the company's plans, although the Ministry of Environment "has not indicated the same confidence advising that more studies are required."

Taken as a whole, Mr. Junger's report rather lightly dismisses the concerns raised by first nations, environmentalists and Ministry of Environment officials.

In July, a panel of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency came to very different conclusions, saying the project "would result in significant adverse environmental effects on: fish and fish habitat; navigation; current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by first nations and on cultural heritage; and certain potential or established aboriginal rights or title."

One of those aboriginal rights, of course, would be the right to continue fishing in a lake the Chilcotin bands have been using for thousands of years.

Mr. Junger was not blind to that issue, but concluded that because there are more than 20 other trout lakes in the area, and because a fake lake would be built, "significant such opportunities would remain" for native people to go fishing.

The federal review notes that the provincial decision was made before first nations had a chance to speak at public hearings.

And the federal panel concluded that "recreating a lake with adjacent spawning and rearing channels is questionable as no information was presented regarding the successful replacement of an entire lake and stream system as a self-sustaining ecosystem."

Over the past several months, native leaders and environmental groups have been calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to adopt the findings of the federal panel, while Premier Gordon Campbell has been urging Ottawa to follow his government's lead.

Mr. Harper's decision was expected in September, but has been delayed, apparently because the issue is far more complicated than the B.C. government suggests.

A look at the small print in Mr. Junger's recommendations makes it clear B.C. raced to its conclusion that the mine would have "no significant adverse effects" and that it placed little weight on the concerns of first nations.

That made the decision easy. But it didn't make it right.

Naked Truth About BC's Environmental Assessment

Everyone now sees the process has no clothes, as feds reject same lake-killing mine BC approved.

By Tony Pearse

16 November 2010

The recent decision by the federal government to kill the proposed Prosperity mine project calls into question (once again) the integrity of the B.C. environmental assessment process.

How can it be that one project proceeds through two separate assessment processes with such radically disparate outcomes?

It's like going to two different doctors and having one say, "You're in good health, go home," and the other say, "You've got terminal cancer and six weeks to live!" Only one of these diagnoses can be right.

Environmental assessment is supposed to an objective, neutrally administered, fact-finding process, and results should be more or less consistent regardless of whose assessment process is being applied.

It's not often we have a situation where one project is subjected to two different environmental reviews, but now that it has happened with Prosperity, we have a perfect opportunity to find out what went wrong and fix it.

Nature-threatening list a mile long

When the federal panel issued its report in July it found an array of very serious, irreversible impacts that were not fixable. In addition to the complete loss of Fish Lake, the mine would result in significant adverse impacts to Tsilhqot'in land use, culture and heritage, aboriginal rights, traplines, navigation, wildlife and significant cumulative impacts to grizzly bear.

Further, the mine would likely require water treatment well beyond mine closure and perpetual maintenance of the fish habitat compensation works, meaning a substantial and ongoing commitment of government resources for monitoring, treatment and maintenance in perpetuity, since the company was planning to walk from the property once mine reclamation was complete.

It is no wonder that Environment Minister Prentice called the federal report the most scathing assessment report he had ever read when he rejected the mine on Nov. 2.

B.C.'s assessment found only one significant impact -- the loss of Fish Lake -- but then wrote this off on the basis of a profoundly inadequate fish restocking program in other lakes, plus the claim that the economic benefits (something the EAO never evaluated) of the project offset the impact.

The company's response to the federal decision was disingenuous, to say the least. CEO Russell Hallbauer in announcing the company plans to submit a new proposal once ii figures out why Prentice rejected it, stated:

"Before taking that step, we must learn the reasons why the first proposal was rejected. Understanding the reasons will enable us to address their concerns and work to reduce or eliminate them."

Didn't Hallbauer read the panel's report? The minister had no other reasons (and needed none) except those the panel so explicitly laid out.

And some of those reasons -- the ones dealing with the write-off of Fish Lake -- had been known to the company since it first engaged the federal government with its proposal in the early 1990s. Taseko had been repeatedly told by the fisheries department that a project that
involved the loss of Fish Lake was not open for discussion.

Taseko had been advised over the past decade to examine alternatives. The company claims it did look at different ways of mining the deposit, but it always ended up with the same old proposal.

As Taseko stated to the federal panel at the technical hearings in Williams Lake in April, "Taseko has left no stone unturned in trying to find a way to preserve Fish Lake and develop the project... It is not possible to preserve Fish Lake as a viable and functioning ecosystem while at the same time maximizing the full potential of the defined resource. From a mine planning perspective, in order to meet the objective of maximizing the full potential of the mineral resource at Prosperity, mine planners and decisions makers need to contemplate and prepare for the development of a pit that infringes on Fish Lake."

An unfixable proposal

It's amusing that Taseko, so adamant until this point that there was no way to mine and save Fish Lake, has suddenly become attentive to prospects of an alternative when the government rejects the project.

It will be a futile attempt. The problems identified by the federal panel are so major and overwhelmingly unfixable that no project at any scale will work in that setting.

In the meantime, the EAO now has a new executive director. Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, having just parachuted in from her stint as B.C.'s comptroller general, couldn't have arrived at a better time. Now is a
perfect opportunity to fix some of the endemic dysfunction within the EAO. For starters, she would be well advised to commission an independent audit of how her officials conducted the Prosperity EA process and ended up approving what would have been an environmental disaster.

Tony Pearse is a resource planner specializing in land use and resource management issues involving First Nation communities and territories in western Canada. He assisted the Tsihlqot'in National Government at the technical hearings of the federal panel review of the Prosperity mine.




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