Around 150 people attended an informal community barbecue hosted by the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce Monday before the opening of the Canadian Environmental Assessment panel hearings in Williams Lake.
There were no formal speeches but proponents of the project were available for media interviews.
New Prosperity is “too important” to the economy to be denied, Cariboo GM manager Lorne Doerkson suggested.
“Taseko has spent $100 million going through the environmental assessment, it has responded to First Nations demands and government demands, and I think there are still false comments being made that are confusing people.”
The suggestion that Taseko is going to destroy Fish Lake is full-stop wrong, Doerkson added.
“It angers me that people are out there still saying that. I think there is absolute confusion about this project as there is people in the know.”
Doerkson said New Prosperity Mine could help strengthen an economy that’s been impacted by the mountain pine beetle and the downturn of the forest industry.
“We haven’t been that strong over the last few years, and I don’t know what the city would look like if we didn’t have 1200 guys working in the mines we do have.”
Taseko Mines Ltd. vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison said the new project proposal accommodates First Nations.
“The primary objection to the first project was the loss of Fish Lake,” he said. “Under the new plan the lake is saved and preserved, not only through operations but for future generations. That can be considered accommodation of their interests.”
Former Tsi Del Del chief Ervin Charleyboy said he welcomed the panel process.
“This is not a done deal, that’s why we have environmental assessments,” he said.
Convinced the mine would be environmentally friendly and would give younger generations employment, Charleyboy said presently there is very little to offer young people in First Nations communities.
“Environmentalists speaking against the project don’t know what life is like in the Chilcotin,” Charleyboy said.
“My young people live from welfare cheque to welfare cheque and I feel for them. A single guy gets $185 a month. How can you live on that? It saddens me that young people are doing nothing on the reserves.”
“I am ever the optimist,” Williams Lake and District Chamber president Jason Ryll said. “I believe this proposal is sound in its science and environmental approach.”
Len Doucette of 100 Mile House, who spearheaded the “Say Yes to New Prosperity” campaign, was busy handing out blue sashes for people to wear as an indication they support the project.
“It wasn’t my idea, but it’s a good one,” he said of the sashes. “The blue comes from Taseko’s Commitment to the Cariboo campaign.”
Doucette said he was disappointed the panel hearings were not taking place in 100 Mile House or Quesnel.
“It’s a project for the whole region,” he said.