Reactions to the environmental assessment panel report for Taseko’s New Prosperity Mine have some people saying the project is dead while others say the report doesn’t stop the project from going forward.
Tsilhqot’in National Government chair Chief Joe Alphonse said he was relieved by the “damning report.”
Taseko’s vice president of corporate affairs Brian Battison said the panel report does not stop the project from being approved and added that the report, in most respects, agrees with Taseko’s assessment.
“The panel said its report makes no suggestion as to whether the project should proceed; that decision will be made by the governments of Canada and British Columbia,” Battison said.
“We were anticipating that the environmental review panel would come up with the same conclusions as the last review panel, but we didn’t think it was going to be this strong of a report,” Alphonse said. “For the first time in all of Canada, it’s not just one environmental review, and it’s not just one bad environmental report, it’s two now made by individual panel members.”
After hearing from 300 individuals and groups during the public hearing sessions held in the Cariboo Chilcotin July and August, the panel prepared its report and submitted it Thursday, Oct. 31.
In the report, the panel concluded the New Prosperity Project 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.
The panel also concluded there would be a significant adverse cumulative effect on the South Chilcotin grizzly bear population, unless necessary cumulative effects mitigation measures are effectively implemented.
Battison said Taseko Mines Ltd. strongly disagrees with the panel’s suggestion the company has underestimated seepage from entering Fish Lake and predictions of the water quality of Fish Lake.
“Their own independent expert on the subject agreed with our approach and with our findings. His results were essentially the same, in terms of our estimated seepage rate.”
Battison also said the report noted that grizzly bears in the area would actually benefit if the mine were built.
An environmental assessment is a “high level examination,” not as detailed as the next level would be if government approved the project, Battison said.
If government approved the project it would only be approving Taseko’s ability to go to the next level and get the permits provincially and federally to operate, with the majority of those permits being provincial, he said.
“That’s a much more detailed examination. In order to get those permits we would have to spend significant additional sums of money, which is normal, in engineering to further detail our plans and expectations about the project.”
That would cost the company $50 to $60 million extra, he added.
“They are not going to ask someone to go out and spend money without qualified approval.”
Alphonse argued the panel’s report provides the TNG with all the ammunition they could ever want.
“We’re satisfied and will chalk that up as a victory. It’s irrelevant now what government’s going to do, we know that in all levels of government you’re going to weigh your options and you’re going to listen to the legal team and we know what the recommendation’s going to be from the legal side. It’s up to them.”
The only honourable thing for Taseko to do is to notify Canada to withdraw its application, he said.
“I think this company has really created a big strain between the Tsilhqot’in people and the business community of Williams Lake, painting such a negative picture. It’s time we get beyond the New Prosperity Mine and get to the healing. We want to move forward.”
For the business community of Williams Lake and companies like Taseko, Alphonse said he hopes there’s a lesson learned in all of this to include First Nations people.
“They need to come to our doors and work with us in an honourable way if they want to move forward. Refusing to do that is going to leave companies like Taseko wondering what happened. That’s not innovation, that’s what the rest of Canada is already doing.”