A revised application for the rejected $800-million Prosperity Mine still calls for the destruction of one of the two fish-bearing mountain lakes originally scheduled for eradication, the Georgia Straight has learned.
A February 21 news release by proponent Taseko Mines Limited stated that its new plan for the controversial B.C. gold and copper project, which was blocked after a negative federal review-panel decision last year, “greatly reduces environmental impacts, [and] preserves Fish Lake and its aquatics”.
The release did not mention Little Fish Lake.
The February 21 bulletin quoted Taseko president and CEO Russell Hallbauer as saying: “Our initiative to preserve Fish Lake and accommodate the concerns of the Federal Government and First Nations communities is a major commitment and undertaking by Taseko.”
Taseko did not divulge details of the revised application. The company stated in its release that the new plan was made possible because “new longer-term price projections emerged which indicated both copper and gold prices would be much higher” than when the mine was originally proposed.
Extra costs related to the preservation of Fish Lake would add $300 million to the original estimate, the company said.
However, a spokesperson for Taseko, Brian Battison, told the Straight that unlike Fish Lake, Little Fish Lake would not be spared if the new proposal got a green light from Ottawa. “It is part of the tailings facility, as in the original project,” he said of the smaller lake in a March 4 phone interview.
Battison reiterated that saving Fish Lake originally “was not a viable option because it was not economic at the time of the review”. He said he was confident that increased gold and copper values will “sustain themselves above the prices that this project is not economic”.
He also said: “This proposal addresses the concerns that the First Nations had about the project.”
Representatives of the Tsilhqot’in National Government were not immediately available for comment on the fate of Little Fish Lake, which contains rainbow trout but in fewer numbers than Fish Lake.
George Heyman, executive director of Sierra Club B.C., told the Straight by phone that he knew nothing of the new Taseko plan other than it did not involve draining the larger lake. Of the decision to destroy Little Fish Lake, he said: “That’s news to me. That’s the first detail I’ve had of the new proposal.”
The national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, Joe Foy, said Taseko has shown it cannot be trusted.
“They say that the prices for copper and gold have gone up”¦therefore the company can spend more money on environmental mitigation,” Foy told the Straight. “Therefore they don’t have to use Fish Lake as a dump”¦.It tells me they had a [alternative] project in their back pocket [from the start]. Now, what does that do to trust?”
Heyman expressed similar thoughts: “I don’t think you develop an alternative plan”¦in a couple of months [after the initial rejection]. What it says to me is that if they could have gotten approval for the first plan, they would have taken it and pocketed the profits.”
Andrew Gage, staff counsel for West Coast Environmental Law, wasn’t taken aback at the news that Little Fish Lake will be wiped out if the new proposal goes ahead. “It would have been surprising if they didn’t [destroy it],” he said from Victoria.
“There was nothing in that [February 21 Taseko] statement that said they would save Little Fish Lake. It’s not a complete surprise. They viewed Fish Lake as the big problem.”
Gage said it will be interesting to finally see details of the application. “I still want to see how this is different from the other proposals. Will Fish Lake be destroyed down the road?”
The federal government acknowledged receipt of Taseko’s new project description in a February 22 statement that noted, in part: “As we have said in the past, if the proponent is interested in proceeding in a way that would respect the environmental concerns that were raised by the assessment, then we are open to assessing that proposal.”
In a February 25 letter from the Tsilhqot’in National Government to the federal ministers of environment, fisheries and oceans, natural resources, transport, and Indian and northern affairs, as well as to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Native representatives demanded consultation from Ottawa about Taseko’s revised application and all details therein.
Battison said the particulars of the plan will be revealed by the government. “It will be posted publicly by CEAA once it is deemed complete in terms of its content. They are going to review it”¦There is no time frame around that”
The February 25 TNG letter also stated: “It is disingenuous of Taseko to present this as a ”˜quick fix’ solution to the myriad problems with its rejected project. Even if Taseko were to preserve Fish Lake (and the viability of this proposal remains uncertain), it still would not address the host of significant environmental impacts identified by the [federal review] Panel in its report, including impacts on Aboriginal use of lands and resources for traditional purposes, on cultural heritage, on Aboriginal rights and title, and on threatened grizzly bear populations. Fisheries issues would almost certainly persist.”
Taseko’s proposed project, an open-pit mine to be sited about 125 kilometres west of Williams Lake, gained approval through the B.C. government’s environmental-assessment process in January 2010.
The provincial certificate was awarded despite widespread opposition from First Nations and environmental groups and Taseko’s acknowledged intent to drain Fish Lake and destroy Little Fish Lake through its use as a toxic tailings reservoir.
On November 2, 2010, the federal cabinet turned down the Prosperity application after a negative review by a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel, which cited “significant adverse environmental effects”. Of particular concern to the panel were fish and fish habitats, future grizzly-bear populations, and established and potential aboriginal rights and title.