MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Taseko New Prosperity Mine at Fish Lake rejected again

Published by MAC on 2014-02-28
Source: Mining.com (2014-02-27)

Taseko New Prosperity Mine at Fish Lake rejected again

Ministry concludes project likely to cause significant environmental damage

Canadian Broadcasting Company

26 February 2014

The Tsilhqot'in National Government has strongly opposed Taseko's gold and copper mine project, saying the development will kill Fish Lake, preventing access to a place of spiritual importance.

The New Prosperity gold and copper mine project near Fish Lake has been rejected once again by the federal Ministry of Environment, in the latest of a long back-and-forth between Taseko Mines and the Canadian government.

Minister of Environment, Leona Agluqqak, has concluded the controversial project, which has been rejected twice before, is likely to cause irreversible environmental damage. In a statement, the ministry said the project will not proceed.

An independent review panel found environmental damage to the Fish Lake watershed would be irreparable. Taseko has come back with numerous proposals for the open pit mine, roughly 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, B.C.

Both this reincarnation of the Taseko Mines proposal and a previous one were supported by the B.C. Liberal government.

Taseko Mines Ltd. launched a judicial review in 2013 alleging the federal panel reviewing the second proposal used the wrong information to conclude the mine would result in adverse environmental effects.

The project has faced vehement opposition from members of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, who argue Fish Lake - considered sacred in their culture - would be damaged by the mine.

The first time Taseko's proposal was rejected by the Ministry of Environment, the decision was based on similar conclusions reached by the review panel in 2011. In that proposal, the mining firm proposed using the lake as a tailings pond.

Taseko's revised proposal for the $1.5 billion project, submitted this year, included plans for conserving Fish Lake.

The company has estimated the New Prosperity mine would generate 550 direct jobs and $340 million in gross domestic product annually.

Taseko's original proposal received provincial approval in 2010, but the federal government rejected the plan, because it would have drained Fish Lake.


New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project - Environmental Assessment Decision

Office of the Minister of the Environment News Release

26 February 2014

Ottawa, ON - The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, today issued a decision statement under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 for the proposed New Prosperity Gold Copper Mine project in British Columbia.

The Minister of the Environment has concluded that the New Prosperity Mine project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated. The Governor in Council has determined that those effects are not justified in the circumstances; therefore, the project may not proceed.

In making its decision, the federal government considered the report of the independent Review Panel which conducted a rigorous review of the New Prosperity Mine project, and agreed with its conclusions about the environmental impacts of the project.

Quick Facts

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced today that the New Prosperity Mine project is not authorized to proceed.

The EA Decision Statement and a Backgrounder, as well as information on the environmental assessment of the project are available at ceaa.gc.ca

Quotes

"The Government of Canada will make decisions based on the best available scientific evidence while balancing economic and environmental considerations," said Minister Aglukkaq. The Minister added, "The Government will continue to make responsible resource development a priority and invites the submission of another proposal that addresses the Government's concerns."

Contacts
Jennifer Kennedy
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of the Environment
Telephone: 819-997-1441
Jennifer.Kennedy[at]ec.gc.ca

Lucille Jamault
Communications
Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
Telephone: 613-957-0434
lucille.jamault[at]ceaa-acee.gc.ca


Trout fishing in the Cariboo: The prize of a gold mine for the price of a giant aquarium

By James Munson

Ipolitics.ca

26 February 2014

It sounds like the kind of unbelievable scheme only Hollywood could love: like the artificially stocked river in "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen."

Taseko Mines Ltd. is seeking approval to build a British Columbia mining operation by keeping a lake cherished by the local First Nation on life support for over two decades - by turning it into something the First Nation says is akin to a giant aquarium.

Instead of draining Fish Lake to excavate a copper and gold deposit - as Taseko had proposed in an earlier project design that regulators eventually rejected - the company now wants to choke off water flows entering and exiting the remote lake in B.C.'s Cariboo region.

But the lake has steep significance for the Tsilhqot'in First Nation. The lake holds an estimated 85,000 rainbow trout, there are fish camps around the lake and pit houses on islands in the lake with historical value. So, Taseko will recirculate water in and out of the lake, creating a man-made flow that the company says will keep fish life healthy.

"Basically, like an aquarium," said Jay Nelson, general counsel for the Tsilhqot'in National Government, during a recent interview in a downtown Ottawa hotel.

It's all a matter of tight geography. The open pit where the excavation will take place is just 500 meters downstream from Fish Lake. The tailings pond will be on the other side of the lake, two and a half kilometers upstream.

That's the offer Taseko has made to the Tsilhqot'in to build the New Prosperity mine, a deal the First Nation has rejected.

Also squeamish about the plan are federal scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, who say the Taseko plan will severely damage the lake's ecosystem. That's not the end of their complaints. They also fear seepage from the tailings pond, which will hold the acid-laced liquid used to extract gold and copper from the excavated rock, into the lake downstream.

Playing the judge in this fight is Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who must make a decision on a Federal Review Panel's report Friday. She can accept, reject or ask for modifications to the report on the panel's review of the proposal, which sided with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists.

The prize for this ecological disruption is an expected production of 108 million pounds of copper and 247 thousand ounces of gold per year for 20 years. The low-grade copper and gold deposit is large, about 1,500 meters by 800 meters with a depth of 880 meters, according to Taseko.

The company is no Johnny-come-lately to the Cariboo. It's nearby Gibraltar mine has been producing for 35 years and currently employs 475 people. Taseko has been looking to open a mine in the Fish Lake area, which has seen prospecting since the 1930s, since the 1990s.

But Taseko only owns 75 per cent of Gibraltar, a mine that produces 60 million pounds of copper annually. Opening New Prosperity on its own would present a major expansion for the Vancouver-based explorer.

The mine will cost $1.5 billion to build and then $200 million a year to operate. The economic spin-offs are supposed to fan out from the mine like this: 550 direct jobs, 1,290 indirect jobs, $32.7 million to local contractors and suppliers, $26.2 million in government revenues during construction of the mine and $48.4 million annually during operation, and $340 million annually in provincial GDP growth.

All for the price of altering one lake. And only temporarily at that, says Taseko.

The water quality in Fish Lake can be maintained by the water recirculation plan, says the company. Water monitors near the tailing ponds will catch any seepage heading towards Fish Lake. Anything caught by those monitors will be re-routed, the company says.

The site will be lost to the current Tsilhqot'in generation. But once the site is decommissioned and reclaimed several decades from now, "the spiritual and cultural values associated with Fish Lake would be restored to their former capacity," says Taseko's proposal.

At that point, the rainbow trout population will have only dipped to 35,000, it says.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Tsilhqot'in say the alteration goes much deeper. The mine plan, including the recirculation strategy, "would result in several significant adverse environmental effects; the key ones being effects on water quality in Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), on fish and fish habitat in Fish Lake, on current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by certain aboriginal groups, and on their cultural heritage," says the panel report.

As for the rainbow trout, they won't have a viable ecosystem, says the report.

The panel also found that Taseko won't be able to stop seepage into Fish Lake from the tailings pond and that the impact on culturally important sites can't be mitigated. Another local First Nation, the Secwepemc, would also be negatively impacted by the mine's transmission line.

Taseko has taken exception to one key aspect of the panel's report since it was released on October 31. A month later, the firm filed a judicial review of the report in Vancouver court, arguing the seepage rates determined by the panel were based on an assessment by Natural Resources Canada that did not include the "low permeability till liner" of the tailings design.

They also disagree with the comparison to an aquarium.

"The characterization is a poor one," wrote Brian Battison, vice-president of corporate affairs for Taseko, in an e-mail. "The mitigation measures and water management techniques we are proposing in New Prosperity are not new and have a long history of proven success throughout the world in the mining industry and elsewhere."

The legal wrangling highlights the lack of consensus on what is at stake. Still, each side is adamant about where it stands in the equation.

"There's too much in the trade-off," said Chief Joe Alphonse, the Tsilhqot'in's tribal chairman, during the Ottawa interview.

Human watersheds

Even if you neglect the environmental questions for a minute, the human facet of the decision draws an even starker divide.

Archeological evidence suggests the Tsilhqot'in's ancestors lived in the region 5,500 years ago. A war with European-blooded settlers in the 1860s is still memorialized each year. Hunting, fishing and cultural traditions have remained resilient in the sparsely populated region.

Then there are the signs that not everything is tradition. The region is culturally and ethnically mixed with predominantly white communities like Williams Lake and 100 Mile House inside it. The fixtures of a modern economy - the Gibraltar mine, the remnants of the once mighty lumber industry, life in towns along the highways - mingle with Tsilhqot'in age-old heritage.

It all gives a glaring sense of inevitability to changes like those the New Prosperity mine would bring. Why defend something that's bound to change anyway?

"I don't buy that argument," said Roger William, chief of the Xeni Gwet'in village, one of the Tsilhqot'in communities, in the Ottawa interview. "The culture is very strong."

Across the Ottawa River from Aglukkaq's office in Gatineau's Les Terrasses de la Chaudiere building, another national institution is also mulling the fate of the Tsilhqot'in.

On November 7, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments for and against the Tsilquot'in aboriginal land claims in the Cariboo. The legal fight is over 20 years old and during its time before the B.C. courts, the hearings took five years and included elders having to recount traditional stories to judges in order to prove their propriety to the land.

When the Supreme Court makes its decision on the case, it will affect more than the Tsilhqot'in and New Prosperity. The case could add precision to what aboriginal land title means because it's dealing with the question of whether title refers to "postage stamp"-style pieces of land or much larger tracts.

"You can't do that if you had no nation, no culture," said William, referring to the fight to get the case heard at the Supreme Court. "You have to be proud."

Chief Roger Williams speaks with iPolitics on Feb. 13, 2014. iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood

For all the change that's come to the Tsilhqot'in, they don' t think enough has changed for them. In the 1990s, Taseko was a more open and consultative company, with an eager B.C. government there to help, said William.

The co-operative approach didn't last. Taseko walked away from discussions then because of the demands put on the project by the federal government's fish habitat protection rules and falling mineral prices, according to the Tsilhqo'tin. The company, under new management, returned in 2009 with a proposal that didn't include any input from the Tsilhqo'tin.

That plan involved draining Fish Lake and was simply called Prosperity. The Tsilhqo'tin lobbied hard against it and Environment Canada scientists found it would significantly disrupt fish habitat. Environment Minister Jim Prentice rejected the plan in November 2010 on those grounds.

So, Taseko went back to the drawing board. Alphonse, the tribal chairman, remembers Taseko officials telling them they would be back to have their mine approved. In the following three years, Canadian environmental laws have changed in order to streamline mining reviews.

If Aglukkaq approves this latest attempt, the Tsilhqo'tin are prepared to go to court over it using any means, said Alphonse.

Any attempts by Taseko to convince the Tsilhqot'in that the coming decision should be treated as the final one will be rebutted by pointing to Prentice's 2010 rejection.

"Did they accept the decision?" said Alphonse rhetorically.


Canada again blocks Taseko copper/gold mine development

Nicole Mordant

Reuters

27 February 2014

VANCOUVER - Canada's government has blocked the development of a controversial copper and gold mine owned by Taseko Mines Ltd, the second time in just over three years that it has halted the mine plan.

The decision came after Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq concluded that the New Prosperity mine project is "likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated", a statement from the minister's office said.

However, Ottawa left the door open for Taseko, a small Canadian copper miner, to submit a new development proposal for the open-pit mine in south-central British Columbia.

"The government will continue to make responsible resource development a priority and invites the submission of another proposal that addresses the government's concerns," Aglukkaq said.

In making its decision, the federal government considered an October 2013 report from an independent review panel on the project and agreed with its conclusions that the mine plan poses significant threats to the environment and nearby communities.

Taseko spokesman Brian Battison said the company was "terribly disappointed" with the government's decision but that it would not kill the project.

"This is not the end," Battison said, adding that Taseko would spend the next few days working out what other course of action was available to it.

The company will also press on with an existing judicial review application that it has launched in which it argues that the review panel's findings on water quality and mine seepage were partly based on an error in the information it reviewed.

Ottawa blocked the project in November 2010 when it overruled British Columbia's provincial government and refused to allow the development of what was then called the Prosperity project because of worries over its environmental impact.

Taseko revised its mine plan to address regulator concerns and reapplied in 2012, but aboriginal groups and other opponents say the revised proposal, if approved, would still harm a local lake and the rights of indigenous groups in the area.

Taseko, which owns and operates the Gibraltar copper mine in British Columbia, is challenging the findings of the government-appointed review panel. The company has launched a judicial review.

New Prosperity has a measured and indicated resource of 5.3 billion pounds of copper and 13.3 million ounces of gold, with an estimated 20-year plus mine life. Taseko expects the project to create close to 2,000 jobs and generate more than $1 billion in government revenue.

Taseko shares, which have dropped 22 percent over the last twelve months along with other mining stocks, closed at C$2.37 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday, up 4 Canadian cents.


'This is not the end' - Taseko pursues other options for Prosperity

Michael Allan McCrae

Mining.com

27 February 2014

Taseko Mines says the rejection by the federal government for its New Prosperity project is "not an acceptable conclusion" and it will pursue other courses.

"This is not the end. Saying no to this project, which is so important to so many people, is not an acceptable conclusion," said Taseko Vice President of Corporate Affairs Brian Battison in an interview with News 1130. (The company's president also released a statement on the decision.)

Battison said that the judicial review will continue to run its course. The company will also consider other courses.

The company was down 5.49% to $2.24 per share after opening.

Yesterday the Environment minister Leona Aglukkaq issued the decision under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act rejecting a mine stating that "significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated." Her decision was based upon a report released by her agency in November.

Taseko said the findings were flawed and relied upon the wrong tailings storage facility design and the company filed for a judicial review.

The Sierra Club welcomed the rejection of New Prosperity.

"This is the only decision that the federal cabinet could credibly make given the overwhelming scientific evidence presented to the review panel and the proven, court-declared First Nations rights to the area," said Executive Director Bob Peart in a news release.

"We are delighted to see this threat removed from the pristine waters and fish populations of Teztan Biny, and congratulate the Tsilhqot'in Nation on an important step toward protecting this culturally and spiritually significant place."

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