New Prosperity plan is environmentally sound – by Russell Hallbauer, President and CEO, Taseko Mines (Northern Miner – November 04, 2011)

The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry.

I read the editorial submission of Chief Marilyn Baptiste, of the Xeni Gwet’in band of the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG), on The Northern Miner’s website on Nov. 2.  It purported to list eight reasons why Taseko Mines’s resubmitted application to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) for the New Prosperity gold-copper project in B.C. will fail.

Ms. Baptiste’s latest comments are consistent with her wholesale rejection of any constructive dialogue around New Prosperity, which nevertheless holds tremendous value regionally, provincially and nationally.

The sentiments expressed in Ms. Baptiste’s editorial do not represent the views of the vast majority of people in Williams Lake and Cariboo communities. The region is in need of sound, long-term employment and revenue opportunities, and residents are largely confident in Taseko’s track record as the responsible and environmentally conscious operator of the Gibraltar copper mine, one of the area’s largest employers and an economic lifeline.

As recently reported in a study by the Centre for Spatial Economics, there are 71,000 direct and indirect jobs, $4.3 billion in federal taxes, $5.52 billion in provincial taxes, an $11-billion increase in real gross domestic product and a 5,400-person increase in B.C.’s population which will issue from New Prosperity over its lifetime.

So here are eight reasons why, with respect, Ms. Baptiste is inaccurate in her assessment of the New Prosperity project:

1. Last year the federal government invited Taseko Mines to resubmit an application which would address the concerns raised during the first environmental assessment. Of the 24 potential environmental impacts identified, 22 were found to have no significant adverse effect. The two identified impacts – the loss of Fish Lake which we are now able to save and the impacts on grizzly bears which was never attributed to the mine directly but rather to an aggregated increase in human activity in the area – are both addressed in this new plan.

2. The revised New Prosperity development plan represents a substantially increased investment, which has been made possible by the surge in commodity prices for both gold and copper. Few, if any, could have foreseen such a significant increase in market value. Alternatives to draining Fish Lake were, in 2010, not economically feasible. Now they are.

3. Ms. Baptiste is partially correct when she says, “option 2 is the basis for the New Prosperity design.” The key word is “basis.” This is a markedly revised plan, which goes the distance to address government concerns. Nevertheless, there are indeed some elements that have been preserved from the previous plan, the overwhelming majority of which were fully assessed by federal departments and found to be sound.

4. The distortions around our evaluation of alternative mine configurations presented in the original Prosperity plan have been passed off as fact for too long. To set the record straight: the alternative plan upon which New Prosperity is based suggested, at the time, a greater long-term environmental risk. However, now that we have explored that option fully, enhanced our environmental mitigation measures, and applied a hefty additional investment to facilitate it, it is a sound option from all environmental perspectives.

If Fish Lake had been eliminated, as proposed in the first plan, no future conceivable risk could befall it. Now that the lake has been preserved, the onus is on us to mitigate risks to that body of water, which we have done with New Prosperity.

5. We fully expect the federal government to meet its constitutional requirements to consult First Nations, but note that New Prosperity is located on Crown Land owned by the people of B.C.

6. The New Prosperity development plan has been nearly two decades in the making, and has been assessed exhaustively provincially, federally and from third-party experts. An approval from CEAA would reflect the diligence of the process and the work that has gone into the project’s planning.

7. In its 2010 final assessment of Prosperity, the CEAA concluded that the project would have no significant adverse effects on air quality, water quality, wildlife or vegetation; no risk to fish in the Taseko River; and no risk to human health. Now, add to that the commitment to preserve Fish Lake and it’s clear that any impact on waters is markedly reduced.

8. Ms. Baptiste is correct in noting there is somewhere between $350-billion to $500-billion worth of resource projects in Canada. Aboriginal people should be involved in the discussion and share the wealth, as should all Canadians. Our consultation efforts to date have included payments of nearly $1 million to Chief Baptiste’s band and other bands to assist them with capacity issues. We spent a further $750,000 to identify any archaeological sites in the immediate mine-site area, an amount far in excess of what was required of us under the law but which we agreed to do at their request and to demonstrate our efforts to be responsive to their interests.

Now is the time to dispense with rhetoric and examine New Prosperity on the merits of facts, just as CEAA will do in the coming months. Doing so will re-focus the conversation on how this project can serve the public interest to the benefit of all Canadians.

Russell Hallbauer, president and CEO
Taseko Mines
Vancouver, B.C.