Taseko had hoped that New Prosperity to reproduce the success that is has seen with Gibraltar Mine, an open pit copper mine north of Williams Lake with a net asset value of over $1 billion.
Taseko had hoped that New Prosperity to reproduce the success that it has seen with Gibraltar Mine, an open pit copper mine north of Williams Lake with a net asset value of over $1 billion.
Taseko and its supporters decry the federal government’s decision, while opponents see a long-sought victory
As news broke of the federal government’s late Wednesday night decision to reject, for the second time, Taseko Mines Ltd.’s proposed $1.5-billion open pit copper and gold mine, supporters and opponents have engaged in a debate over what the verdict means for mining in B.C.
“It’s a disappointment,” says Bill Bennett, B.C.’s minister of energy and mines. “I wasn’t shocked but I was a little bit surprised. I thought a Conservative government would say yes to this project.”
Bennett acknowledges the review panel’s findings and the role it played in the minister’s decision, but questions how the feds came to a different conclusion than the provincial government.
“I hope they realize that we do know how to build mines in this province. Our process doesn’t allow mines to be built if they’re going to contaminate, so there’s a bit of a disconnect between the federal government and how we do things in the provinces,” says Bennett.
The debate over the proposed New Prosperity mine has focused on the picturesque Teztan Biny, or Fish Lake, since it was first proposed in 1995. Under the federal Liberal government, the first proposal didn’t make it to the environment assessment process as it didn’t meet the Department of Fisheries requisite criteria of no net loss in fish habitat.
In January 2010 the province approved a second proposal for a mine at Teztan Biny, but later that year the federal government rejected the proposed mine, in part because of plans to drain the lake for use as a waste pond.
The company submitted a revised proposal in 2012, but still faced local First Nations opposition over the mine’s threat to local waterways, fish habitats and their traditional way of life.
Federal Environment Minister Leona Agglukaq, in announcing yesterday’s decision, concluded the mine is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated by potential economic benefits. The government based its decision on a report from an independent environmental assessment that found that the mine would do irreparable damage to fish habitats. The decision however leaves open the opportunity for Taseko to apply for a third time.
In a statement, Taseko said that it fundamentally disagrees with the decision, and believes that it was based on a panel report containing serious flaws, repeating allegations against the environmental review panel it first raised in 2013.
“After a second lengthy and costly federal review, the federal government has once again stood in the way of the development of an important project to British Columbia," said Taseko CEO Russ Hallbauer.
In an interview on Business News Network on Thursday, Hallbaeuer said he was unsure whether they would go ahead if for a third time, in the case that his company goes back to the federal government for reconsideration or appeals the decision in court. He also indicated some tension with the federal government since the panel report came out two months ago, reflected in the fact that they haven’t had any communication with the Environment Minster’s office in over two months.
“This one mine is greater than the fishing and film industries combined in terms of GDP value added to the province,” saId Hallbauer.
“[The decision] shattered the dreams of thousands of people in that area who were pounding on that mine for jobs and economic stimulus for their area,” says Conservative MP Dick Harris, whose riding includes the proposed mine. “Over the course of the mine’s 25 to 30-year lifespan it would have created thousands of jobs.”
A poll in the Cariboo-Chilcotin last year found that 70 per cent of respondents were in favour of the project, says Harris, who has been lobbying for the project since 2004. “We were already deep in the mountain pine beetle epidemic and job losses were already threatening to get high, so this mine was important.”
Opponents to the project lauded the federal governments’ decision, although they remain unsure how the mine even made it to the environmental assessment phase.
“I think Canada made the right decision,” says Chief Joe Alphonse, Tsilhqot'in Nation tribal chairman. “It’s been a 25-year fight, and this is the third go around for our community.”
“It's the first time in Canada that we’ve looked twice the same company applying for the same mine in the same area, there’s no other place that can say that, its uncharted water,” he says. According to Alphonse, Taseko has refused to work with the Tsilhqot'in Nation on impact-benefit agreements, amongst other concerns.
“There can never be any type of relationship between the Tsilhqot’in nation and this company.”
The federal government’s decision did not come as a surprise to Ian Parkinson, an analyst at GMP Securities who tracks Taseko. Parkinson was doubtful of Taseko’s ability to get the project permitted, based on the results of the environmental assessment process, local opposition and the company’s track record of failed projects, which he does not include New Prosperity in his valuation of the company. But as for the future of the project, he says, “there’s nothing off the table.”