A proposed open-pit gold and copper mine could be given the go-ahead as early as Friday, despite opposition from First Nations and findings by a federal review panel that it would pose significant harm to the environment.
The Taseko Mines Prosperity project slated for the Nemiah Valley, about 160 km southwest of Williams Lake in British Columbia, would span 35 square km and include an access road, a mill, and 125-km-long power transmission line.
The $800 million project would drain pristine Fish Lake—renowned for its rainbow trout, use Little Fish Lake and Fish Creek as tailings ponds, and contaminate other nearby bodies of water.
The project has already passed a provincial environmental assessment and now hinges on the federal government’s decision.
If they’re not going to recognize our rights and our title to the land then what hope is there for any other First Nation in B.C. or across Canada?
—Chief Joe Alphonse
Many politicians, businesses, and laid off mill workers in the Williams Lake area support the project, which would bring hundreds of much-needed jobs to a region impacted by the fallout from the pine beetle infestation that caused widespread damage to forests.
But Chief Joe Alphonse of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation says the mine, which would be “right in our back yard,” is unacceptable to the Tsilhqot’in.
Alphonse says the band has multiple concerns around the project, in particular the destruction of Fish Lake and potential harm to the Chilcotin Lake sockeye salmon run, on which the band depends.
Besides being an abundant source of trout and one of the top ten fishing lakes in B.C., he says Fish Lake has for centuries been of profound cultural and spiritual significance to the Tsilhqot’in.
“It would be a huge loss to our people, our way of life.”
The provincial environmental assessment process found that although the project would have negative environmental effects, the mine was justified on account of the economic benefits it would generate and because the lake and the fishery would be replaced.
But replacing Fish Lake is easier said than done, says Alphonse.
“You can’t just create that type of lake that’s taken thousands and thousands of years to create that would sustain such a large number of lake trout. Just digging a hole in the ground and filling it with water—what they plan on proposing—is not a replacement at all as far as we’re concerned.”
B.C. business groups believe the mine will be a boon to the province. Jock Finlayson of the BC Business Council says the project is needed given the province’s declining trade balance and weak forestry sector.
“Prosperity is one of the most significant new anchors of economic development available to the province at this time. Federal government approval of Prosperity will be a significant boost for BC’s future prospects.”