A mistake in an environmental review could shake the confidence Canadians have in the regulatory system, according to a representative of a mining company alleging a major error has already occurred.
Taseko believes Natural Resources Canada erred when evaluating the seepage rates of its proposed New Prosperity copper and gold mine near Williams Lake by modeling the potential impacts using an incorrect design for the tailings pond. The company is calling on Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to “correct the record” when she makes a final determination on whether the project could cause significant adverse effects.
“You expect, and I think the public expects, that these processes are going to be thorough and fair and appropriate, after all these are significant projects in Canada that go through an environmental assessment of this nature,” Taseko vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison said Monday. “People need to have confidence in the process, that the process is fair and unbiased. A mistake like this kind of calls into question the validity of the process and that has the potential to shake people’s confidence in the process.”
The mine proposal has been on the books for decades and an initial plan was rejected in 2010 after an environmental review identified concerns over the idea of draining Fish Lake to create a tailings pond. The company went back to the drawing board and came up with a new plan to locate a tailings pond two kilometres away from the lake.
The second environmental review released Oct. 31 concluded there could still be significant adverse effects to fish and fish habitat due to potential seepage from the tailings pond into the lake. The company said if the proper design for an engineered soil tailings pond liner had been used, seepage rates wouldn’t be a concern.
“It’s potentially one individual has made a mistake and the future of an entire project can hinge on the views of that one person,” Battison said.
With other major projects both locally or nationally undergoing reviews, a mistake in the New Prosperity report could have wide-ranging implications, according to Battison.
“Site C is in the same process, Enbridge [Northern Gateway] is in the same process,” he said. “You look across the country, you can go on the [Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency] website and see all the major projects that are in a review panel.”
The Tsihqot’in National Government has defended the findings of the environmental review panel. It believes Natural Resources Canada used the proper design when modeling seepage rates and that the mine if built as designed would have an impact on fish and fish habitat.
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