A forum to discuss the New Prosperity mine proposal drew around 120 people on Thursday.
The forum, hosted by the Tsilhqot’in National Government, included a large crowd of people who crammed themselves into the Central Cariboo Arts Centre in Williams Lake to hear firsthand from First Nations leaders and TNG’s mining manager about their opposition to the proposed gold-copper mine project.
Tl’etinqox (Anaham) Chief Joe Alphonse, TNG tribal chair, confirmed his nation’s opposition to the mine hasn’t changed.
“The threat to our waters and our fish stock is still there. Fish Lake is a sacred and spiritual area. A lot of our members go there for strength and we continue to utilize that,” he said, adding burial sites have been discovered there and for those reasons the TNG cannot alter its position.
Mining manager J.P. Laplante referred heavily to the Canadian Environmental Assessment panel’s comments on the initial Prosperity mine project proposal and suggested a second review is a “waste of everyone’s time, resources and good will.”
He described the new proposal as being no different than the first, with the exception being the tailings facility would be moved two kilometres upstream of Fish Lake.
Referring to a 33-year mine plan located in the back of the proposed new project description, Laplante said the plan includes mining right up into the lake and basically under the lake.
“To put it into perspective the proposed alternative would clearly surround Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) by the mine,” Laplante said.
“They wouldn’t drain the lake, and this is according to the experts, but they would sentence it to a slower death by placing the nearly 500 million tonnes of acid waste immediately upstream of the lake, contaminating it from the discharge of acid tailings water directly into upper Fish Creek and Teztan Biny.”
He added that the tailings pond and pit combined would destroy 81 per cent of the Fish Lake spawning habitat.
Taseko Mines Ltd.’s vice president of corporate affairs Brian Battison was not at the meeting, but responding to Laplante’s comments said no contaminated water will leave the mine site.
“It will be a closed site and no water will leave the entire site for at least 50 years and only if it meets water quality guidelines of the day,” Battison said.
In addition, he said any potential and even non potential acid rock will be covered with soil and denied oxygen to further stop contamination.
As far as comments that the new proposal is no different than the first, Battison said Taseko is “committing to spend an additional $300 million to preserve Fish Lake, which was the main point of First Nation opposition to the project.”
Laplante also described Prosperity as a low-grade mine and suggested obtaining the copper and gold at the site requires digging deeper and a much larger pit.
“You have to deal with all that ore and all that dirt in a way that’s unmanageable. It all needs to go somewhere. That’s one of the issues here, is that it’s a low-grade project,” he said, adding the company hasn’t done a feasibility study on the ability to pay for the project since 2007. Laplante said there’s a danger Taseko could walk away from the project.
“The project could be approved and the company could get started and at year six to eight they’d have to be ready to take a loss. They’d be losing money because they’d be digging through 500 metres of till to get to the ore body. And in order to do that, if they started losing money and walked away from the project, bankrupt, who’s footing the bill?” Laplante posed, suggesting at the end of the day the Tsilhqot’in would be left worrying about the water, and ultimately everyone else who relies on the salmon living in those waters.
Battison said LaPlante is: “speculating on matters he has no responsibility for or particular expertise. We will be filing a complete environmental impact statement which will be the subject of the federal environmental assessment and until that material is submitted it’s meaningless for anyone to speculate on what it may contain or what may be concluded from it.”
Mining in B.C., Battison added, requires mining companies to fully cover the costs of reclamation at any given time in the mine’s life, and because of this taxpayers are fully protected from any financial liability.
After hearing Laplante’s presentation, many from the audience offered feedback, some asking how they can help fight the mining proposal. Others, who have worked in mines, suggested reclamation and water treatment can work, while some said they hope there will be similar meetings in the future.
Alphonse encouraged as many people as possible to participate in the upcoming environmental review, regardless of whether they are for or against the proposal.
“I think the word has to be sent out that I don’t want this to be a First Nations versus non First Nations issue,” Alphonse said.
Mayor Kerry Cook said the mine is too important of a project to let it divide the community.
“We’re neighbours and we need to find ways to listen and to move forward together,” Cook said.
“I think everyone in this room knows the City has taken the position of pro Prosperity and despite that, we have been able to work together in very respectful ways on issues of common interest.”