In its July 2010 report, a Federal Review Panel identified a number of significant adverse effects that were likely to occur if Taseko Mines were permitted to build its proposed Prosperity gold-copper mine. These were significant adverse effects, for which the panel saw no reasonable means of mitigation. The adverse effects identified by the panel would be on:
- The use of lands and resources by the Tsilhqo’tin Nation;
- The rights and title of the Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc Nations;
- Fish and fish habitat;
- Navigation and the use of Fish Lake for food and recreational fisheries;
- A threatened grizzly bear population;
- Loss of grazing areas and a trap line;
- The operations of a local outfitting operation.
Based on these significant impacts, the federal government rejected approval for the project in November 2010. Following is a review of the statements Taseko has made recently about a revised project the “New Prosperity”. These statements are made on its websites (www.tasekomines.com and www.newprosperityproject.ca) and in the February 2011 project description. Unfortunately, a copy of the recently submitted June 2011 project description has not been made publicly available. Taseko’s statements are compared with the findings of the Federal Review Panel that examined the project and the experience of MiningWatch in the review process. The report of the Federal Review Panel can be found here.
First Nations Relationships and Adverse Effects
Two First Nations would be affected by the project. The actual project site is located within the territory of the Tsilhqot’in and the electrical transmission line would cut through the Secwepemc territory. Neither nation has signed treaties or land claims with the BC or Canadian governments. After examining the potential impacts and benefits of the project, both nations have decided to oppose it.
On its new website Taseko makes statements about working collaboratively with “all interested parties”, that it has “worked alongside key members of the Tsilhqot’in National Government”, and explains how it provided First Nations with funds to review the project and conducted archaeological surveys to satisfy the concerns of the Tsilhqot’in. Taseko also claims to have “overwhelming support of the community” by which it must mean the non-native community that does not live near the project site because the local First Nations, and provincial and national First Nation organizations have been unanimous in their rejection of the project. Opposition to the mine from the non-native community also exists, especially amongst residents in the rural area surrounding the mine.
While Taseko did provide funds to the Tsilhqot’in for their participation in the review of the project, the costs borne by the First Nations in examining the project and participating in the review process greatly exceed those offered by Taseko, and exceeded those available from the federal government for participation in the review panel process. These funds were in no-way conditioned on the Tsilhqot'in approving the project but were provided to help them better understand it. Upon gaining a better understanding of the implications of the project, they decided to oppose it. While Taseko’s “New Prosperity” communications focus on avoiding the loss of Fish Lake, the destruction of the lake was only one of the reasons that the Tsilhqot’in found that the negative impacts of the project would outweigh any benefits.
The Tsilhqot’in were also unsatisfied with the conducted archaeological work that missed important aspects of their cultural heritage around the proposed mine site. Though incomplete, the archaeological study still found evidence of continued and diverse use of the area for the past 5,500 years. The destruction of the area, or at best the identification and removal of the identified “artefacts”, was deemed by Taseko to have no significant impact on the Tsilhqot’in. The New Prosperity Project cannot prevent what the Tsilhqot’in view as major negative impacts on their territory including loss of burial sites, traditional gathering sites and old homesteads.
Throughout the review panel process, Taseko made efforts to downplay the importance of the area to the Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc and tried to undermine the Nations’ asserted rights and title to the area. A Taseko representative went as a far to read out an extensive passage of the speech given when Canada refused to vote for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (a federal position which has since been reversed). Recently, the revised project proposal was submitted to the federal government with no prior consultation. Due to these types of tactics the relationship between Taseko and the First Nations is anything but collaborative. In a recent press release, Chief Joe Alphonse stated that:
"This equally damaging proposal was submitted with zero consultation with the Tsilhqot’in Nation who in fact received the submission after it had already been sent to both governments. TML’s attempts to ‘revive’ the mine proposal without the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s input or consent is a clear signal that the company does not understand Tsilhqot’in rights and culture, and lacks respect for the environment and our communities."
The Review Panel found that the project would have a number of adverse effects on the Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc. In part, the adverse effects stem from the intrusion of the project into unceded territory where there are outstanding land claims. The project would alienate a substantial area of land that could fall under future land claims. Nothing in the revised project would address this fundamental issue.
Another aspect of the adverse effects on First Nations was the loss of use of areas for important activities including fishing in Fish Lake and the Fish Creek watershed but also hunting, trapping, grazing, gathering plants, berries and medicines, and conducting ceremonial and spiritual activities. By focussing on the physical protection of Fish Lake, the proposal does nothing to address these other losses. Despite not being drained, access to Fish Lake would be prevented for the life of mine operations and the ecological integrity of the lake cannot be insured (see next section).
Fish, Fish Habitat and Fishing
In pitching the new project, Taseko has emphasized the concerns over the destruction of Fish Lake while ignoring other significant adverse effects. Though the new plan would protect the physical integrity of Fish Lake by not draining it, the plan would not protect the ecological integrity of the lake ecosystem or the cultural values the lake provides to the First Nations and other users.
The Review Panel recognised that the productivity of Fish Lake comes from the interconnected habitats of the upper Fish Creek watershed including the streams, shorelines and shallow near-shore lake habitats that provide habitat for the abundant lake trout population. One of the most productive areas of the watershed is actually where the open pit would be located and this reach of the creek will still be destroyed in the new plan as it would have in the old. Little Fish Lake, though much smaller than Fish Lake, would still be lost in the new proposal.
The “new” plan was actually considered in Taseko’s assessment of alternatives for the federal assessment. In their final report, the Review Panel agreed with Taseko’s own assertion that locating a tailings impoundment upstream of Fish Lake, as proposed in the “new” plan, would likely result in contamination of the lake.
One of the reasons why the protection of the fish population in the Fish Creek watershed is of such concern is that it provides an important back-up resource to the Tsilhqot’in when salmon numbers are down. It is also a high quality recreational fishing area with an abundant and easy-to-catch population of pan-sized trout. Access to Fish Lake during mine construction, operation and closure would be prohibited for safety reasons, eliminating opportunities to make use of the fish resource for 20 to 33 years. Concerns and suspicion about contamination after mining ends would also prevent or restrict future use by the Tsilhqot’in and possibly by other users. The Review Panel also noted that an important part of the use of the area is its aesthetic quality, which would inevitably be compromised even after the site is closed.
Grizzly Bear Population
The grizzly population in the south Chilcotin is considered threatened by the province of BC and additional impacts from Taseko’s project would likely result in negative “high magnitude, long-term effects” on the population, according to the Federal Review Panel and participants in the review process. These effects would come from increased traffic, lost habitat and habitat fragmentation. The Review Panel found that Taseko’s proposed mitigation measures would be of little use in addressing the impacts. Taseko’s website, however, only acknowledges “concern” over impacts from increased traffic.
No additional new measures to address effects on the grizzly population have been provided in the “New Prosperity” proposal. A vague commitment to address the issues with the province is given.
Given the Panel's findings on grizzlies, it is upsetting to see Taseko state that the Review Panel's findings indicated no significant environmental effects on “wildlife”.
Loss of Grazing Areas, Trap Line and Outfitting Business
The natural meadows along Fish Creek provide important grazing areas for cattle, domestic horses and wild horses. The area is also a designated trap line, held by a member of the Tsilhqot’in Nation. These sustainably used and renewable grasslands would be buried under the “New Prosperity” tailings impoundment – a significant local adverse effect, according to the Review Panel. These issues are not mentioned or addressed in Taseko’s “New Prosperity” materials.
Taseko Outfitters operate a family owned guiding business in the immediate project area. This business would lose its valuable wilderness appeal if located adjacent to a massive open pit mining operation.
Expanded Mine Plan
Following the initiation of the federal review panel process, Taseko announced a substantial increase in potential mineral reserves that it could extract by expanding the open pit and increasing the mine life from 20 to 33 years (Taseko News Release, Nov. 2, 2009). This expanded mine plan would greatly increase the amount of potentially acid generating waste coming from the pit. During the review, concerns were raised about the potential expansion and the integrity of the tailings disposal area and fish habitat compensation reservoir but Taseko insisted that the only project that was to be reviewed was the one submitted. There is no indication in the “New Prosperity” project description of the expanded mine plan and how this would affect the site plan, waste management and environmental management aspects of the project.