By Wendy Stueck
Link to G&M Poll to vote on the future of Fish Lake
With the fate of the proposed Prosperity Mine in the hands of the federal government , native leaders gathered Tuesday in Williams Lake to discuss strategies to head off the $815-million project.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo met Tuesday with leaders of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, which represents six bands in the Chilcotin area that are opposed to Taseko Mines’ plans to build an open-pit gold-and-copper mine about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
The AFN had previously thrown its support behind the Tsilhqot’in National Government, which is also backed by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Mr. Atleo was not immediately available for comment.
The meeting comes as the war of words over the project intensifies, with business and community interests championing the jobs and investment the project would bring, and environmental and native groups saying the mine would result in significant and irreversible damage to fish, water and wildlife.
In a recent corporate filing, Taseko said it believes that “the significant economic benefits that will flow to the region, the province of British Columbia and the federal government as a result of the Prosperity Project will be given prominence in the deliberations of the Federal Cabinet.”
Building the mine would destroy Fish Lake – a small, trout-bearing lake once featured on a government tourism promotion postcard – as well as nearby Little Fish Lake and parts of Fish Creek. Taseko says it would build a new lake, called Prosperity Lake, to compensate for the loss of fish and fish habitat.
The mine, which if approved would be one of the biggest new mines built in the province in a decade, was given a green light by the province in January, 2010. The provincial process, which took economic factors in to account, found that the environmental impacts of the mine would be outweighed by the economic boost it would provide for a hard-pressed region.
But in July, a federal environmental review panel – which did not consider economic aspects – found the mine would result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by natives and on “potential or established Aboriginal rights or title.” That put the decision into federal hands.
Taseko operates the Gibraltar mine, an interior B.C. copper mine, and has interests in other undeveloped mineral projects in the province.
In September, Taseko filed a preliminary prospectus to raise up to $300-million for “general corporate purposes,” including construction of the Prosperity mine. In a final form of that prospectus, filed in October, the company said it expects a cabinet decision on the Prosperity project in October.
As weeks pass without a decision, there has been some volatility in the company’s stock. Taseko shares fell 73 cents, or 11 percent, to close at $6.21 on Oct. 14, the biggest one-day decline since July 5. During the day, shares dropped by as much as 34 percent, the largest intraday drop since 1990. Taseko said it was unaware of any information that would cause the price of the company’s stock to change materially.
The dispute over Fish Lake is unfolding as the provincial government is pursuing revenue-sharing agreements for native bands in connection with new mine projects.
The first two such agreements were announced in August, when the province signed revenue-sharing deals for the New Afton Mine near Kamloops and the Mount Milligan mine in central B.C.
TNG chiefs have stated they are not interested in a revenue-sharing agreement for the Prosperity Mine.