VANCOUVER – Those for and against the controversial proposal for the billion-dollar New Prosperity Mine in British Columbia are drawing much different conclusions from their interpretation of a federal environmental review for the site.
The study by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, released late Thursday, concluded the open pit gold and copper mine proposed by Taseko (TSX:TKO) in B.C.’s central Interior would pose “several severely adverse environmental effects” on water quality, fish and fish habitat in a lake considered sacred by the area’s First Nations.
The project would likely pollute Fish Lake, known as Teztan Biny to First Nations, and endanger the aboriginal way of life and cultural identity, the report said.
This is the second time the federal review panel has rejected the project. The original proposal for the site southwest of Williams Lake was approved by the provincial government, but rejected by the federal government in 2010 because the plan was to drain the lake for use as a tailings pond.
The Tsilhqot’in National Government, which claims the mine site as part of its traditional territory, is calling the panel’s decision a victory, and chairman Chief Joe Alphonse said the federal government would be foolish to approve the mine.
“The cards are stacked against them now,” he said in a phone interview on Friday. “We have all the ammunition we would need to put on a very strong legal challenge if the federal government were to try to move this project forward.”
However, Taseko sees the report in a different light, and interprets the panel’s conclusions as saying the risks are modest and the social and economic benefits are enormous.
Spokesman Brian Battison said the project has the support of locals in the Cariboo region.
“(The federal government’s) decision will affect the lives of tens of thousands of people,” he said in an interview. “This project is really a once-in-a-generation opportunity and they’ll take that into consideration as well.”
The company estimates the New Prosperity Mine would generate 550 direct jobs and $11 billion in real gross domestic product over 20 years.
Battison also pointed out that the assessment concluded the mine would not put areas such as the Taseko River at risk, and that mitigation measures proposed by the company to reduce impacts on the threatened South Chilcotin grizzly bear population may actually leave the animals in better shape.
“It will be enhanced by the project, not threatened by the project,” he said.
Battison said the company disagrees with the panel’s findings about the project’s environmental impact on Fish Lake.
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