Financier Warned of Project's 'Unacceptable' Risks for Investors and Environment
Joint release: EARTHWORKS – MiningWatch Canada
WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. -- First Nations and environmentalists are urging a major international financial institution to say "no" if Taseko Mines Ltd seeks funding for its revised proposal for the open-pit Prosperity mine, which would threaten the traditional way of life of the Tsilhqot'in people and a celebrated trout lake high in the Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia.
The Washington DC-based international organization EARTHWORKS and Ottawa-based MiningWatch Canada have written seeking a meeting with Credit Suisse, which has loaned hundreds of millions of dollars for other Taseko projects. In the letter, the mining reform advocates report that Prosperity would "push industrial development into the heart of the traditional territory of the Tsilhqot'in Nation," without the consent of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, threatening the forest, waterways and wildlife of an unspoiled region about 600 kilometres north of Vancouver.
"The high level of controversy surrounding the project would lead to an unacceptable reputational risk for Credit Suisse if you were associated with it," said the letter to CEO Brady W. Dougan in Zurich. It was signed by Jennifer Krill of EARTHWORKS and Ramsey Hart of MiningWatch Canada.
Ms. Krill said: "We are urging Credit Suisse to refuse to provide financing for the Prosperity Mine project because it would involve highly destructive practices considered unacceptable under World Bank guidelines and Credit Suisse's own mining sector lending policies."
The letter draws to Credit Suisse's attention that the Canadian government rejected Taseko Mines Ltd.'s original proposal on November 2, 2010 after accepting the "scathing" findings of a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) review panel. The panel reported the project would cause "high magnitude, long-term and irreversible" damage to the environment and to the rights and way of life of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation.
The company, however, has since submitted a new proposal, which it says would spare Fish Lake. Yet the company categorically stated last year that no other project was economically viable, and, more significantly, that any other alternative would be more damaging to the environment. The CEAA panel also found that other alternatives could be even worse than the original plan.
Vancouver-based Taseko Mines Ltd. had received British Columbia provincial approval of the project despite the extent of the damage it would have caused, and despite the united opposition of the First Nations who rights would have been violated. The project would have had a 35 sq. km footprint on this pristine wilderness area and highly productive watershed. The rejected plan would also have destroyed Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), which is sacred to the Tsilhqot'in and contains 95,000 rainbow trout and a smaller nearby lake. They would have been replaced by a kilometre-deep open-pit mine and would have been filled with 720 million tonnes of tailings and waste rock.
MiningWatch Canada's Ramsay Hart said: "It is unlikely that Fish Lake really would be saved under a new plan, given that there would be a massive tailings impoundment immediately upstream and the lake would be in the centre of an industrial mining site. Of course not draining Fish Lake doesn't address the other environmental and social issues identified in the federal review process and it doesn't mend the relationship with the First Nations."
"So we are asking Credit Suisse to look at its own policies corporate responsibility codes and how they would define the acceptability of this proposed mine," continued Mr. Hart.
Tsilhqot'in Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse said: "This latest move by the company leaves us little doubt that its plan all along was to get the cheapest project it could and that it considers environmental and First Nations concerns as obstacles to be side-stepped. It is important that investors understand the facts and decide for themselves if they want to be associated with such a desperate and destructive plan."
Xeni Gwet'in Chief Marilyn Baptiste, whose Tsilhqot'in First Nation would be most directly impacted by this project, said: "Now that Taseko Mines Ltd. has resubmitted this proposal, it is time to take our message and our deep concerns to the investment community. We hope Credit Suisse will agree to meet with us."
The letter to Credit Suisse notes that, despite spending 17 years and an estimated $100 million pursuing the project, Taseko Mines Ltd. has failed to secure "the free, prior and informed consent of the affected community." Both the rejected proposal and the recent revision were developed "without any consultation with the potentially impacted First Nation communities."
"We are not against mining per se, but projects like this one can never be accepted, and pursuing them only waste everyone's time and resources," Chief Baptiste said. "We are not willing to sell out the land, the water and our rights, future generations and way of life at any price."
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Jennifer Krill, EARTHWORKS (415) 336-8936
Ramsey Hart, Mining Watch Canada (613) 569-3439
- MiningWatch Canada's backgrounder on the Prosperity mine proposal. Updated March 4, 2011
- First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining press release: Investors called on to enforce their own rules against bad mine projects, March 7, 2011
- EARTHWORKS/MiningWatch Canada joint letter to Credit Suisse