Feds reject proposed B.C. Prosperity mine
The environment and First Nations opposition appeared to trump the promise of jobs and even the provincial government's wishes for a gold and copper mine proposed in an economically hard-hit area of British Columbia.
Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced Tuesday that the government had rejected Taseko Mines Ltd.'s proposed Prosperity Mine because of a "scathing" federal environmental assessment.
The mine was touted as an $800-million project, 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, B.C., that would have created 700 jobs in a region devastated by the pine beetle epidemic and the economic downturn in the forest industry.
The province approved the project earlier this year despite the fact the mine would damage fish habitat, saying the economic benefits outweighed environmental concerns.
But the federal government's environmental assessment said the mine would have significant adverse impacts on the local grizzly bear population and would destroy Fish Lake and damage dozens of connecting streams.
The Tsilhqot'in First Nation, which considers the area their traditional territory, was vehemently opposed to the project and elders had threatened to roll themselves out in their wheelchairs armed with shotguns to stop the mine. Band spokeswoman Marilyn Baptiste said the federal announcement was a relief.
"We're honoured for the fact that our very being and our wildlife, our wild fish stocks are not under threat for a moment," she told The Canadian Press.
Last month, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell called on Ottawa to approve the mine during a speech to municipal leaders and Randy Hawes, B.C.'s minister of state for mining, said Tuesday his government was disappointed.
"It's not the outcome that we really wanted. We should go back and take a look to see if there's a way this can be represented and restructured in a way that it could work so that it could gain approval," Hawes said from Victoria.
Russell Hallbauer, the president of Taseko, said in a statement the company was extremely disappointed "not only for our shareholders, but for the communities that were relying on the development of Prosperity to help offset the economic situation in the Cariboo-Chilcotin."
Prentice said the company could make revisions and propose the project again. Hallbauer said the company will evaluate the rejection and look at its options.
The B.C. Mining Association said the decision was bad news for the entire mining sector and for the provincial and Canadian economy.
"The social and economic contribution of this project would have benefited all British Columbians for at least a generation," said Pierre Gratton, president of the association.
The federal government did approve the smaller Mount Milligan gold and copper mine proposed by Thompson Creek Metals Co. north of Prince George, B.C., after what Prentice described as a "highly consultative and a collaborative approach" with those impacted by the development.
The provincial government signed a revenue-sharing agreement worth an estimated $30 million with the McLeod Lake Indian Band near the Mount Milligan Mine and the band supported the development.
B.C. NDP mining critic John Horgan said the two mine proposals were a study in contrasts, one company working with environmental groups, local citizens and the area First Nations and another that simply got provincial government support.
"It's got to be on your check list. If you've done due diligence on your outreach to the people effected by your industrial activity, the chances are better you're going to get a positive result," Horgan said.
He admitted, however, that he was surprised by the federal decision.
"I would have thought the Harper government would have seen an advantage here and exploited it. Instead, they listened to their bureaucrats and good on them."
The Sierra Club of B.C. said the decision will shore up public confidence in the federal government's environmental assessment process.
"This is the only decision that the federal cabinet could make without leaving the Canadian environmental assessment process meaningless and without credibility," Sierra executive director George Heyman said in a news release.