MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian PM stands "firm" against revised Taseko mine plan

Published by MAC on 2011-03-01
Source: Globe and Mail, Reuters

It's one of the most attacked mine plans in Canada - one dependent on flooding toxic tailings into a pristine fresh water lake (aptly named "Fish").

And it's been fought against for the past years - especially by the Tsilhqot'in First Nation. See: Preserving fish stocks a challenge for Taseko, Northgate

In November 2010, the Canadian federal government rejected the proposal, despite  vociferous objections from the British Colombia provincial government.

See: Canadian Fish Lake Spared

Last week, the project's proponent, Taseko Mines, announced a revision of its original plan, claiming it would no longer need to use Fish Lake as a waste dumping ground.

(As of this posting (27 February 2011) the company had released no details about this so-called "alternative").

In response, Canadian First Nations ridiculed Taseko's attempt to reverse the earlier ruling, pointing out that their opposition stems from concerns which go beyond the tailings dumping issue. (For example, there's a prized grizzly bear habitat that would be endangered).

Reuters (22nd February) suggested that  Canadian federal prime minister, Stephen Harper,  might now re-consider his earlier stance.

However, Toronto's Globe and Mail (21 February) was convinced that he still stood "firm" against the entire project.

Harper stands firm on rejecting proposed B.C. mine project

By Ian Bailey

Globe and Mail

21 February 2011

Vancouver - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government would reject high-level lobbying to revive the Prosperity Mine project.

Christy Clark, seeking the leadership of the B.C. Liberals, had promised to press Ottawa to change its decision on the $800-million mine if she became premier, but Mr. Harper told reporters on Monday that he was not interested in "political bargaining" over the fate of the project.

Mr. Harper was not referring specifically to Ms. Clark's pledge, but rather to a question about a possible bid by B.C.'s next government to save the project. A new premier will be elected Feb. 26 by B.C. Liberals.

"The government has rendered a decision. That decision is final. That's a legal decision," Mr. Harper said during a news conference.

"We acted on a comprehensive federal environmental assessment that was absolutely categorical and we have invited the proponent to redesign the project if the proponent is interested in proceeding in a way that would respect the myriad and serious environmental concerns that were raised by that assessment," Mr. Harper said.

"These kinds of decisions are made on the basis of facts - not just economic facts, but also environmental facts in this case, and proponents will have to address that. This is not a matter of political bargaining."

Mr. Harper's comments came as Taseko Mines Limited, leading the project, said Monday it had submitted a new proposal for the copper and gold mine.

The company said in a statement it can now save Fish Lake, near the community of Williams Lake, which was a point of concern in their previous submission. Such an effort would add $300-million to the planned $800-million project.

The company said it has been assured by the federal government that it wants to see resource projects developed, and is only opposed to the way Prosperity was originally proposed.

A provincial assessment of Prosperity supported the original project but acknowledged the controversial planned destruction of Fish Lake to store toxic waste from the mine.

B.C. was looking forward to the predicted $5-billion economic injection over the 20-year life of the mine and $600-million of revenue for various governments, in a region of the province devastated by the mountain pine beetle. The destruction of Fish Lake was vehemently opposed by local natives, who hold it to be a sacred site.

However, the project was eventually rejected by the federal government after a negative environmental assessment.

A spokesman for Ms. Clark said Monday that the former deputy premier was only ever interested in supporting the company's efforts to make the process work.

But Ms. Clark was more blunt in comments to The Globe and Mail earlier this month, saying that "this isn't the final decision as far as I am concerned," and that she thought Ottawa wanted to change it.

"At the political level, they see how dumb this decision is so I think there's an appetite to change it," she said.

Shares in Taseko fell sharply two weeks before the federal government announced that it was rejecting the Prosperity project. The B.C. Securities Commission is reviewing the mid-October drop in the stock's share price, and the federal Liberals have urged the RCMP to launch a probe into the matter.

With files from David Ebner

Taseko submits new plan for Prosperity copper-gold mine

By Allan Dowd


22 February 2011

VANCOUVER - Taseko Mines Ltd submitted a new plan to win approval for its Prosperity mine in British Columbia on Monday, saying it has fixed environmental concerns that saw its last plan rejected.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated on Monday Taseko and its supporters will have a tough time overturning the federal government's decision last year.

The gold and copper project has drawn the wrath of environmentalists and aboriginal groups in the area 125 km (80 miles) southwest of Williams Lake, British Columbia, because it planned to fill a lake with mine tailings.

The Conservative federal government turned down Taseko's application in November, in a decision that surprised many because it normally sides in favor of resource development.

Taseko said on Monday the rejected construction plan was drafted in 2005, and the project's economics no longer require the lake to be filled in because copper and gold prices are significantly higher now.

"Our initiative to preserve Fish Lake and accommodate the concerns of the Federal Government and First Nations communities is a major commitment and undertaking by Taseko," chief executive Russell Hallbauer said in a statement.

The Prime Minister, who was asked about the Taseko project on Monday before the company's announcement, said the government's decision was based "a myriad" of environmental problems raised in its review of the project.

The mine supporters had touted the project has providing a needed economic boost to an area of central British Columbia that has been hit hard by the downturn in the lumber business because of weak U.S. construction demand.

"These kind of decisions are made on the basis of fact. Not just economic facts, but environmental facts, and proponents will have to address that," Harper told reporters.

The project, a conventional open-pit mine located was projected to have a 20-year operational life with a production capacity of 70,000 tonnes of mineral ore per day.

(Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing Andrew Hay)

Taseko Mines Ltd proves it only cares about money - not the environment or rights

Tsilhqot'in National Government statement

24 February 2011

WILLIAMS LAKE, BC - Taseko Mine's Limited is playing costly and dangerous games with First Nations and all British Columbians in its cynical attempt to revive its so-called Prosperity mine, the Tsilhqot'in National Government said today.

"This latest move would be laughable, were the issue not so serious," said TNG Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse. "Enough is enough. It is time to put an end to this company wasting everybody's time and resources on a project that most now realize is a dead issue."

"This latest move by the company leaves little doubt now that its plan all along was to get the cheapest project it could. Now it is desperately trying to find any way it can to revive this project regardless of its impact on the environment and our First Nations rights," Chief Alphonse said.

"We commend the federal government for seeing through the company's claim and rejecting its first plan - which the company was told for 17 years was not acceptable - and we also commend Prime Minister Stephen Harper for standing firm on that decision this week," said TNG Xeni Gwet'in First Nation Chief Marilyn Baptiste.

"Hopefully the federal government, the soon-to-be-elected new provincial premier, and the public will quickly make it clear to Taseko Mines Ltd that this nonsense must end," said Chief Baptiste.

The latest move by Taseko is so cynical and fatally flawed that that it is hard to see how anyone can take it seriously, Chief Baptiste said.

The company has not consulted with First Nations or the public and it has kept the details secret. It continues to pretend that there is only one issue - the protection of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) - that needs to be addressed, when the CEAA review panel report and the federal government's own conclusions made it clear there was numerous and "scathing" problems with the project.

"It seems to think it can insult governments and the public by treating us all as fools with short memories," said Chief Baptiste.

"This company categorically insisted that - even with soaring gold and copper prices - its first proposal was the only economically viable one. It also categorically insisted that any other options for the project would be even more devastating to the environment and First Nations rights," said Chief Alphonse.

"Yet within weeks of its proposal being rejected last November 2, it claimed that it could now suddenly afford to go with an alternative that saved Fish Lake, and it is now hoping that everyone will forget that both it and the CEAA review panel report made it clear last year that any alternative to the original plan would be an even bigger disaster."

Taseko's new move is costly because it will force governments to spend tax dollars dealing with a clearly unacceptable bid, and could even see the province continue to pump tax dollars into promoting this project on Taseko's behalf.

It will also force First Nations, who have been on the front line of defending the land against this project, to continue to spend scarce resources that would be better spent on pursuing genuine and sustainable opportunity.

One also has to wonder how excited investors are about the company adding to the $100 million it has already wasted pursuing this doomed project over the last 17 years.

The rebid is dangerous because it seeks to avoid having another full review of the project and have governments accept the new plan as addressing all concerns. If it were to succeed, it would mean the strong federal EA process would be taken over by the weak and industry biased provincial process.

In effect, the company is seeking to undermine the entire process and set a precedent that will give companies a way to proceed with bad projects through the back door.

The new bid also diverts attention away from the real issues facing mining in BC, and the need to reform the mining system to ensure that the industry and first Nation and other governments can work together to identify and pursue good mining projects.

"The company and supporters such as provincial Mines Minster Randy Hawes and Liberal Leadership Candidate's Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon continue to act as if money is the only issue here." said Chief Baptiste.

"We are particularly offended that Mr. Hawes has once again implied we are holding out for money and that he will try to buy our support with benefit agreements," said Chief Baptiste.

"He knows full well that we will never accept this project and that for us that this is not about money. We are not willing to sell out the land, the water and our rights, future generations and way of life at any price. Period."

For further information:

Media Contacts:
Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair, TNG: 250.305.8282

We say no: Tsilhqot'in stand united against Taseko Mines

By Russell Samuel Myers Ross

Briarpatch Magazine

24 February 2011

Last November, hundreds of people gathered in the community of Tlet'inqox to thank the land defenders and praise the federal government's decision to turn down Taseko Mines' Prosperity project, a proposed gold and copper mine on Tsilhqot'in territory in northern B.C.

The scope of the proposed project - for which Taseko Mines will soon submit a revised proposal - involves transforming Teztan Biny, a lake containing roughly 80,000 trout, into an open-pit mine. The project further proposes the establishment of an artificial lake for the toxic tailings in the Nabas valley, which is located in close proximity to Dasiqox Biny, a large lake that contains the region's mountain run-off and flows into a fish-bearing river.

As the event began, a microphone was passed to everyone in attendance, and a series of testimonies were concluded with a clear sentiment in the minds of those assembled: We succeeded in protecting Teztan Biny because our nation was unified.

For the Tsilhqot'in, the November celebration marked a short reprieve from a three-year struggle. It was shared with an understanding that the Tsilhqot'in - people of the river - still stand upon contested land. We will inevitably be at it again, defending another place in a region that has never been legitimately ceded to British Columbia or the Canadian state.

The struggle to protect Teztan Biny has made the nation much more cautious in trusting companies such as Taseko Mines, particularly after seeing Taseko publicly reject the findings in the federal environmental assessment report, which expressed the potentially illegal infringement of Tsilhqot'in land.

In response to environmental concerns, the mining industry sought the support of political authorities, and were far from disappointed. While Taseko Mines tried to sway the Tsilhqot'in with money, the provincial and local authorities carried out a public relations offensive to pressure the Tsilhqot'in into compliance.

It quickly became evident that Taseko Mines was a significant financial contributor to the B.C. Liberal party, and the governing party's loyalties were favourably entrusted in building support for Prosperity Mine. Premier Gordon Campbell endorsed the project, and Randy Hawes, Minister of State for Mining, argued: "I get that [Teztan Biny] is important to you, but put your kids first."

Hawes blamed the Tsilhqot'in for the conditions of poverty and "hopelessness" in their community, which he said could only be relieved if they accepted the mine. He later reiterated an idle threat manufactured by a couple of local politicians: "As the mayor of Williams Lake said, if this mine doesn't go, there are going to be some very severe racial problems because a lot of the people who are counting on this mine and are looking at it for hope are going to blame the Aboriginal community."

Indeed, politicians in Williams Lake were also clearly in support of the project, which meant that the Tsilhqot'in had to turn away from the provincial and municipal governments and consolidate ties with people, organizations and communities that could be unified in collectively promoting respect for Indigenous people's land and waterways that sustain all life.

The Tsilhqot'in galvanized a broad network of Indigenous nations, especially those formerly or currently affected by resource-extraction activities, and also environmental, legal and citizenry-based organizations. The Tsilhqot'in turned to people and groups who held a common trust, a relational connection that was not tied to monetary salvation.

Together we carried the weight and responsibility of defending the land. Of the lessons learned, foremost among them was the importance of maintaining momentum and a collective feeling of solidarity. In actualizing this sense of belonging, gatherings were established at and near Teztan Biny; hundreds participated in the Run for Sacred Water relay, events were created to fundraise and to showcase the legacy of mining for Indigenous peoples elsewhere, people petitioned and protested, and hundreds voiced concerns during the federal panel hearings.

Building momentum is difficult, particularly given the sense of despair that sets in when the powerful appear bigger than us. Nevertheless, the people who shared in the struggle to protect Teztan Biny were engaging in a relational model of politics that conceptualized ideas of wealth and memories of place much differently than Empire.

This relational model, based on reconnecting land and people, was demonstrated by one of the first actions of defiance, which was to prevent Taseko representatives and the provincial environmental official from holding a public meeting on Tsilhqot'in territory so long as certain demands were not met. The community hall was blocked by a group of leaders who wielded drums and sang until the crowd left.

Our weapons, which we chose carefully, were our voices and our drums' beat. It became the theme of every event - sharing songs of the struggle, remembering the songs of our relations and thus carrying our responsibility to protect the fish and water. In those spaces where the drum travelled, I learned, as I was learning the songs, that we were unified in redefining our roles, identity and culture within this struggle.

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