By John Werring, Senior Science and Policy Adviser
It's a familiar script, with familiar players. Taseko Mines Ltd.'s proposed New Prosperity gold-copper mine for the Fish Lake watershed 150 kilometres southwest of WiIliams Lake, B.C., just received a damning report from a review panel — yet again.
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The last time we posted a blog on this topic it was to applaud a bold decision by the federal government to reject Taseko's initial mining proposal. That plan called for the company to drain Fish Lake, known as Teztan Biny by First Nations, and use the lake basin as a dumping ground for mine waste, destroying the lake and the ecosystems it supports in the process. Taseko Mines told the special review panel that reviewed the proposal that destroying the lake was the only and inevitable option since the lake was so close to the proposed mine pit. Taseko's own experts wrote: "It is not possible to preserve Fish Lake as a viable and functioning ecosystem while at the same time maximizing the full potential of the defined resource."
After almost two years of engaging extensively with experts and the public, the review panel concluded that the impacts on fish and wildlife and First Nations' cultural heritage associated with the proposed project were staggering and unacceptable. Efforts to mitigate these impacts were found to be unworkable and the panel recommended the proposal be rejected. The government of the day listened but left the door open for Taseko to come back with a revised plan to address the shortcomings. That's exactly what Taseko did in 2011. Since the global price of copper had increased substantially, the company could now afford the nearly $300 million it would cost to revise its initial mining plan and save Fish Lake.
The New Prosperity gold-copper mine project once again became the subject of a federally mandated environmental review before yet another panel of experts. After two years of work, yet another damning report (PDF) on the proposal was recently released.
This second report found, once again, that the proposal would result in significant adverse environmental effects, including impacts to the water quality and fish and habitat in Fish Lake. Additional negative impacts were identified relating to the cultural heritage of aboriginal groups and the use of lands and resources for traditional purposes. The panel also concluded there would be a significant adverse cumulative effect on the South Chilcotin grizzly bear population without mitigation measures in place. The panel concluded the proposed project would mean the death of the lake. Mining operations would lead to uncontrollable seepage from upstream tailings ponds and restricted water flow to and from the lake.
Now the federal government faces another decision. Does it approve this revised mine plan even though the identified impacts are as concerning as those in round one of the review processes? The federal government has 120 days to review the report's findings and reach a decision.
We would like to see this revised project rejected and this issue put to rest. With world copper prices down to the same level they were when Taseko first brought the project back to life in 2009, it is questionable whether the new project will even be economically viable. Let's hope there's no Round 3 to this sorry saga.