The proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Project near Fish Lake has been rejected again by the federal environment ministry.
On Feb. 26, 2014, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq issued her decision under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
The environment ministry press release stated: “The Minister of the Environment has concluded that the New Prosperity Mine project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated. The Governor in Council has determined that those effects are not justified in the circumstances; therefore, the project may not proceed.
“In making its decision, the federal government considered the report of the independent [federal] review panel (FRP), which conducted a rigorous review of the New Prosperity Mine project, and agreed with its conclusions about the environmental impacts of the project.”
The FRP recommended rejection of the project in October 2013 because it felt environmental damage to the Fish Lake fish and fish habitat and wetlands would be irreparable for the proposed open-pit mine – about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
Taseko Mines Ltd. vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison’s reaction to the announcement was disappointment not only for the company but also for the “thousands of people who supported the project and worked hard to see it become a reality.”
Noting Taseko “fundamentally disagrees” with Ottawa’s decision, Battison said the setback doesn’t spell the end of the project.
“Saying no to this project, which has such significance and is so important to the central area of British Columbia and the people of B.C., is not an acceptable answer.
“These resources are owned by the people of British Columbia under the Constitution of Canada. They’re granted to the province and it’s up to the province to decide how, if and when, those resources are used for the betterment of the people.
“[The provincial government has] decided this project should be built and the value and benefit from it should go to the people. Now, the government of Canada is standing in the way of that.”
There doesn’t seem to be any winners in this decision, Battison noted.
“Even from a First Nations perspective, the federal government has snatched away the hope of a better future in the Cariboo – new jobs and opportunities closer to home.”
The federal review panel (FRP) process and its findings were flawed and the evidence of that is very strong and that’s why were going to court, he explains.
“It all stems from whether or not there’s an engineered liner on the bottom of the pit in the tailings storage facility and to what degree will that design be to leak and what impact that water, should it leak, have on Fish Lake.”
Battison noted Knight Piesold, which Taseko used for its proposed project, designs waste rock facilities around the world. It designed the tailings storage facility at Mount Milligan near Prince George and it is recognized as the new standard by the provincial government as best practices in B.C., he added.
When the FRP announced its recommendations on Oct. 31, 2013 – based on the input from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) – Taseko was surprised by the outcome, and so was Knight Piesold.
Battison said Knight Piesold scoured the panel’s tailings storage facility documentation and discovered NRCan used the wrong model design – not the design Taseko put forward but some other design – to base its findings for the report.
He noted Taseko wrote the environment minister to inform her NRCan had used the wrong waste rock storage model. In her decision, however, Aglukkaq stated she relied on the FRP’s report.
“For whatever reason, NRCan didn’t recognize there was an engineered liner.”
Battison said Taseko initiated a judicial review in December 2013 and it is underway and running its course.
He added there will very likely be another court case, during which Taseko will challenge this decision and seek to have it overturned by the federal court.
Battison noted Taseko wants the court to decide if the “duty of administrative fairness” was exercised appropriately during the decision-making process.