Skip to content

Taseko Mines and the hole they are in

July 11, 2010

Taseko Mines is digging a rift between First Nations rights, the province of B.C., and federal responsibilities.

On Tuesday, July 6, Taseko Mines took some phone calls from those interested in the debate about the environmental impact versus economic benefits of an $800 million dollar, open pit copper-gold mine.

Four days earlier the federal government released their environmental assessment, much to the chagrin of Taseko Mines Ltd, who saw their stock plummet 20% as a result of the report. The report in question is the Report of the Federal Review Panel established by the Federal Minister of the Environment and published by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).

Russell Hallbauer, President and CEO of Taseko, began the conference call with remarks lambasting the federal government for putting out the report before the close of the market, and addressed the findings of the 296-page report that conclude the project would have adverse environmental effects on Fish Lake and adverse effects on the First Nations culture and rights.

What Taseko knows and is not trying to hide is that mining is not environmentally friendly. Mr. Hallbauer elaborated, “Digging a big hole in the ground has a large environmental effect. It would be tough to argue that digging a large hole in the ground wouldn’t have a large environmental effect. It’s what you do around that hole and around those operations, and we’re pleased with the panel findings that conclude there will be no impact outside of the mine site.”

The problem at the crux of this matter is that the mine site will be on Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), a abundant fishing spot on Tsilhqot’in First Nations land, that has maintained much of its original beauty because of its relative isolation. The area will need to be drained and the fish removed, and it will be turned into a tailings pond.

The report details the findings of the CEAA. It found that Fish Lake is home to 85,000 fish; it is the seventh busiest lake of the 32 lakes surveyed in the Chilcoltin regions; it is known for its ease of catch and fish population; and the fishing experience it offers could not easily be replicated. Not to mention it is the ancestral and cultural home to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation.

The proposed remedy to this problem is a new lake, Prosperity Lake, to be built six miles north of Fish Lake. Mr. Hallbauer described the new lake in the conference call: “It’s just upstream of current Fish Lake. The current lake is in the early phases in the development of the mine and will be made available for public access, First Nations use, and other uses, outfitters etc. So that is one of the first features to be built. It will be this lake that will be slightly larger and slightly deeper and have a more robust fishery. A more attractive fishery than currently exists in Fish Lake.”

In order to make this new lake, a 1550 m dam will be built, stripping vegetation and soils from the basin where the lake would be situated and allowing the basin to fill with runoff collected by a headwater diversion channel. Twelve thousand of the estimated 85,000 fish will be caught – the rest will be given to the First Nations people or be euthanized – and moved to a hatchery, farmed and, in seven years’ time, relocated to the new lake.

The province has given the project the green light and has said that the economic benefit outweighs any environmental impact. The federal government panel concluded that the mine would result in significant adverse effects on fish and fish habitats, the First Nations’ resources, lands, and culture, and on the grizzly bear population.

Taseko’s conference call yesterday was a way to get its investors back on track. It began with Mr. Hallbauer reiterating points of section 11 of the CEAA report. He pointed out that there would be no seepage into Big Onion Lake and no adverse effects on surface water quality, terrains and soils, groundwater, animals, flora and fauna, and people. The only significant adverse effects would be on the fish in Fish Lake and the First Nations people who call that place home, but there was no mention of that during the conference call.

Section 11 of CEAA’s report details the impact of this mine on Aboriginal Rights and Title, rights that are duly entrenched in our constitution and should be upheld by good and honest people. “The Project would have a significant adverse effect on established Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights, recognized and affirmed in the William case.”

What should be controversial, as Mr. Hallbauer points out, is that there has been a loss of 10,000 jobs in the forestry sector in the area due to pine beetle infestations, that there is an unemployment rate of 20% among the Caribboo people, and that the loss of economic activity in the area has resulted in significant job loss.  Money is far more important than the mine’s environmental impact and the threat to Tsilhqot’in rights.

Before the Prosperity project can go ahead, more steps will be taken.  The federal government will hold a consultation with the affected First Nations groups and create a consultation report. That report and the CEAA panel report will go to cabinet. Over the next 60 days a report will be produced by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Natural Resources Canada, and Transport Canada. That report will accompany the First Nations consultation report and the federal panel report. Those will go to cabinet and help inform the cabinet’s decision. Taseko says that the provincial report will also be submitted with those reports in order to sway the federal cabinet decision.

Taseko has also not addressed the DFO’s No Net Loss policy that requires compensation for the loss of waters due to the tailings pond. Taseko says that it believes it has addressed this under the framework of productive capacity. “DFO says that on 30 metres on each side of that stream you need to compensate for that. And in the calculation of how much of that habitat is covered by water, there is a shortfall in their opinion. Our opinion however on a productive capacity basis, that is the amount of fish that are produced, is that we meet the policy not on a metres-per-squared basis but on a productive capacity basis.”

 What’s at stake is $1.7 billion in revenue for the federal government, $3.4 billion in revenue for province, 500 jobs created in the region, Fish Lake, and the rights of the Tsilhqot’in.

One Comment leave one →
  1. ename permalink
    July 12, 2010 12:50 am

    a boisterous and pristine fishing spot

    Please find out just how often the place is actually used because the use of “boisterous” and “pristine” are actually a contradiction in terms.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: