Can $300M save Fish Lake and B.C. mining? – by Terence Corcoran (National Post – October 20, 2011)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.  Terence Corcoran is the editor and columnist for the Financial Post section of the National Post.

First Nations appear to threaten B.C. mining over Taseko’s Prosperity mine

The benefits of mining to Canada are well known. A news story in the Financial Post Tuesday suggests the industry’s contribution to the national economy may be too well known, even taken for granted, to the point where nobody much cares if $11-billion worth of GDP growth is blown away in a protracted battle with First Nations groups and environmentalists over Taseko Mines’ gold and copper project in British Columbia.

At the centre of the project, near Williams Lake, some 400 kilometres north of Vancouver, sits Fish Lake, a small 118-hectare body of water. Call it the $300-million lake. That’s the amount of money Taseko Mines has anted up to preserve Fish Lake in response to a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) claim that the destruction of the lake was grounds for killing the Prosperity mine. At $300-million, or $3-million per hectare, Fish Lake is likely more valuable than Lake Tahoe.

In a 250-page panel review last July, the CEAA could find few problems with Taseko’s open-pit mine project, a $1-billion investment that would create thousands of jobs over a 24-year operating period. The CEAA found, after extensive hearings and 7,000 pages of findings, that the new mine would have no significant impact on terrain, soils, old-growth forest, grassland ecosystems, mule deer, moose, archaeological sites, vegetation, surface water, ground water, the forest industry, human health, community health services, biodiversity or much of anything in the area. But there was a problem with Fish Lake.

According to the CEAA, filling in Fish Lake would rob local First Nations of their established and “potential” aboriginal right to fish, gather plants for sustenance and medicinal purposes, and “continuation of intergenerational knowledge through cultural gatherings, ceremonies and the teaching of traditions to younger generations.” Heritage resources would be lost.

A British Columbia panel, which also reviewed the Taseko plan, concluded that while there would be losses, they were justified on economic grounds. The employment and revenues from the project were substantial. A Taseko-funded consultants’ report this week produced a list of benefits: $786-million in housing construction, $9-billion in consumer spending, $5.5-billion in provincial revenues and $4.3-billion in federal revenues, and $11-billion in mine-production revenues. Even after discounting these numbers for multiplier effects, the benefits of the new mine would be substantial.

With British Columbia onside, Taseko Mines president Russell Hallbauer decided to take the Prosperity project back to the CEAA for another review. Thanks to higher copper and gold prices, the project now looks more economical. Instead of filling in Fish Lake, the company plans to protect the lake and build roads and infrastructure to get around it, at a cost of $300-million.

Some time over the next couple of weeks, the CEAA will decide whether it will maintain its original decision or reopen a panel to review Taseko’s new proposal. But First Nation groups continue to fight the project, for reasons that few outsiders seem to understand. And now they’ve thrown in what looks like a threat.

For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post/Financial Post website: