Byline: John Lorinc
Under an obscure clause in federal fisheries laws, mining companies can obtain special dispensation to transform out-of-the-way lakes into tailings ponds or drain them outright to make way for open-face pits. That, at least, is the plan for Taseko Mines Limited’s massive Prosperity gold and copper mine, to be located 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, B.C., in an area with numerous Dene communities represented by the Tsilhqot’in National Government.
The Vancouver-based company plans to operate the $800 million mine for 20 years, creating about 350 long-term jobs. To build it, Taseko wants to drain 111-hectare Fish Lake and Fish Creek and turn nearby Little Fish Lake into a dumping ground for mining effluent. Both lakes are situated over the gold and copper seam.
They’re not the only lakes facing a similar fate. According to the Council of Canadians, there are now 11 designated “Schedule 2” lakes, a.k.a. “tailings impoundment areas,” across the country. The two lakes in this case have large and healthy rainbow trout habitats and have cultural and historical significance to local First Nations. Fish Lake is one of the province’s best fishing areas, says Chief Joe Alphonse, whose constituents live downstream from the Prosperity site.
Community members are concerned that toxins from the tailings pond will contaminate
downstream drinking water and other fish habitats. In January, the B.C. government gave
Taseko the green light. A federal environmental assessment panel probed the company’s proposal during hearings in April, and a decision from Ottawa is expected this summer.
According to Taseko president and CEO Russell Hallbauer, the mine “will provide tremendous benefits to the social and economic future of British Columbia.”
If the notion of turning a healthy lake into a sludge pond isn’t troubling enough, British Columbia attached a curious condition (one of 103) to its approval. To get the permit, Taseko has to submit a plan to build a new 113-hectare lake higher up the mountain and stock it with
trout. Aptly, the new lake is to be named Prosperity.
That scheme “doesn’t make any sense,” says Alphonse, who isn’t the only person questioning the plan to clear away some vegetation, dig a hole, construct a retention dam and redirect water from the surrounding watershed. “
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Byline: John Lorinc