Taseko Mines Ltd. said a letter from its CEO Russell Hallbauer to Premier Christy Clark did not fast-track the environmental assessment certificate amendment for its New Prosperity Mine Project.
“There has been no amendment granted to our EAC,” the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison told the Tribune. “There is a process you need to go through and we are in that amendment process.”
In the strongly-worded letter, dated May 13, 2016, Hallbauer accused the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) of “maladministration.”
He also criticized the provincial government for signing the Nenqay Deni Accord — the five year agreement regarding the Tsilqot’in rights and title case — with the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG).
Hallbauer’s letter outlined three options for moving forward.
The first was a timely completion of the EAC amendment, the second was for the province to purchase Taseko’s existing permits and engineering reports for New Prosperity to transfer ownership to the TNG or any other interested party, and the third option which would see Taseko initiate legal proceedings against the province.
“Or we could include a civil suit or damages based upon a claim of de facto expropriation, among other things,” Hallbauer noted.
Kevin Jardine, deputy minister of the Environmental Assessment Office, told the Tribune it was only through Hallbauer’s letter his office became aware Taseko wanted to proceed with the amendment process.
“Up until that point it had been more than a year since we previously heard from them,” Jardine said.
It is not unusual to go through the amendment process for Environmental Assessment Certificate holders, Jardine said, explaining companies gain the EAC and then move on to permitting and undertaking the work.
The company might realize, in the context of mining for example, that the initial geotechnical assumptions are not the best solution, he said.
“It is a process and the extent of it or how long it takes depends on how significant the changes are that are being proposed.”
The Nenqay Deni Accord “certainly” impacts the amendment process, Jardine added.
“We will be working with the TNG to determine their engagement through the amendment process. We have legal and constitutional consultative obligations in any event, and what the accord does is set out a heightened process. What that looks like in practice we are hoping to work through with the TNG.”
Projects like New Prosperity need approval from both levels of government, he added.
“The certificates by statute have a five-year time limit on them and can be renewed once for an additional five years,” Jardine said. “We did that in January 2015 so in January 2020 if New Prosperity has not been deemed to have been substantially started, then their certificate will expire.”
That is what happened with the Jumbo Resort in the East Kootenays, he pointed to as an example.
Jardine also said when the environmental assessment office is doing amendments, it is at the discretion of the office to hold public consultation.
Taseko presently has two judicial reviews against the federal government over the February 2014 Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s rejection of the New Prosperity project.
Battison said the judicial reviews will be heard at the same time in Vancouver over five days beginning Jan. 30, 2017.
When asked about the tone of Hallbauer’s letter, Battison said it is “common practice” for CEOs to update the premier from time to time on economic development projects to express their views and perspectives and to offer updates.
“The premier is interested in investment and opportunities for investment and that’s what this project is all about,” Battison said of New Prosperity.
“It represents a lot of value and opportunity for people, that’s what big mining projects do. This is one of the largest undeveloped gold/copper deposits in the world. They are rare, and hard to find.”
Correspondence between Taseko, the TNG and the EAC can be viewed here as forwarded by the office of MLA Vicki Huntington.