The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry.
WILLIAMS LAKE, BC — Two very different scenes played out on opposite sides of the building hosting the public hearing on the proposed New Prosperity mine in the hours before the hearing got started.
On one side, the City of Williams Lake put on a barbecue for project proponent Taseko Mines (TSX: TKO; NYSE-Arca: TGB). Wearing blue scarves to show their allegiance, supporters chatted with each other and the media about what the huge copper-gold mine would mean for the small town. Taseko executives, representatives from the city’s business community and employees from Taseko’s nearby Gibraltar mine spoke of cautious optimism, quiet but strong support, and crucial economic benefits.
In the park on the other side of the building, chiefs and members of a dozen First Nations drummed and sang before a roster of speakers railed against the proposed mine. They spoke of the irreparable devastation the mine would bring to an area heavy with spiritual and cultural significance. They spoke of poisoned salmon, displaced grizzlies, disrespect for established First Nations’ rights, even of “cultural genocide.”
Then the two sides met. Carrying placards with messages like: “Chilcotin gold is more valuable in the ground,” and “Our fish equal our wealth,” the anti-mine group slowly and deliberately made its way into the quiet auditorium. Taseko’s team was arrayed on one side of the stage. The panelists for the hearing sat centre stage, facing the auditorium seats, their staff seated on the other side.
When everyone was in place, the protestors started drumming and singing. The demonstration and blessing lasted about 10 minutes. When it was done, protest leader Cecil Grinder shook hands with everyone on the stage, including those from Taseko.
The appearance of calm, mutual respect belied tensions that have been building for 17 years.
New Prosperity is a new take on a proposed open-pit mine that the federal government turned down in 2010. That result came 15 years after Taseko started advancing the property towards a development decision.
There’s a small lake adjacent to the deposit, known as Fish Lake, or Teztan Biny. Since the planned pit ran almost to the edge of the lake, Taseko originally planned to drain Fish Lake to ensure pit stability.
Taseko knew draining the lake would be contentious but still thought its proposal was reasonable. Teztan Biny is small, covering 110 hectares and averaging 12 feet in depth. There are 13,000 lakes of similar size in the Cariboo region, and the company planned to create a new lake on the other side of the tailings facility in recompense.
Building an open-pit mine necessitates adverse environmental impacts. In Canada, those impacts are greenlighted if the benefits expected to flow from the mine outweigh the damage. Prosperity at that time was expected to create 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in a region struggling with mill closures, unemployment, business and consumer bankruptcies, and a population exodus.
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