Since the federal government's refusal to approve its Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine project, Taseko Mines Ltd. has maintained that the project was not dead and that they would find a way to see it come back to life. Their press releases and communications have included comments about needing to better understand the concerns of First Nations and federal regulators – despite these being clearly and precisely detailed in numerous submissions to the review panel and in the panel’s final report. On February 21, 2011, Taseko announced it was submitting a new mine plan to the federal government that they believe will address the outstanding issues and save Fish Lake.
Could a modified mine plan really save Fish Lake?
Though the loss of Fish Lake (Teztan Biny) is not the only significant negative impact of Taseko’s proposed mine – it has been at the centre of the controversy over the project. Taseko says it now has a way to save the lake and have the mine go ahead. While the modified mine plan could save the physical structure of the lake it is highly unlikely that the ecological and cultural values of the lake could be preserved with the lake sitting in the middle of a mining site. From the limited information available it seems most likely that the lake would be squeezed between the tailings impoundment and the pit. For at least the full operational life of the mine it would be off limits to First Nations and the general public.
During the environmental assessment Taseko provided two alternatives that did not involve the draining of the lake. The federal review panel, was not convinced that even if these options were economically viable they would have much benefit for the environment or to First Nations. The panel concluded:
Mine Development Plan 2, with the tailings storage facility located upstream of Teztan Biny, would in time likely result in contamination of Teztan Biny. While Mine Development Plan 1 would preserve Teztan Biny, it would result in mine water discharge to another watershed and could also affect Teztan Biny if Taseko decided in the future to expand the open pit…
The Panel observes that the proximity of the open pit and associated mining facilities would be close enough to Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) to eliminate the intrinsic value of the area to First Nations even if another alternative were chosen. It appears to the Panel, therefore, that none of the alternative mine development plans examined would receive support from First Nations.
It is not clear what the next steps in the process will be. As a start the Canadian Environmental Agency will have to decide if it is going to restart an environmental assessment process in response to Taseko's modified plan.