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Fish Lake, B.C. would have been turned into a tailings pond if the Prosperity Mine project had been approved. (Sibylle Zilker / The Globe and Mail/Sibylle Zilker / The Globe and Mail)
Fish Lake, B.C. would have been turned into a tailings pond if the Prosperity Mine project had been approved. (Sibylle Zilker / The Globe and Mail/Sibylle Zilker / The Globe and Mail)

Ottawa seeks details on renewed Prosperity Mine proposal Add to ...

Canada's Environmental Assessment Agency has asked Taseko Mines to provide more details about its revamped proposal for the controversial Prosperity Mine, saying a revised description the company submitted in February was incomplete.

The agency "has asked Taseko to provide a more complete description of the revised proposal and its potential environmental effects," spokeswoman Annie Roy said Wednesday in an e-mail, adding that no decision would be made about an environmental assessment until a project description is accepted.

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Such back-and-forth is a standard part of the process, said Brian Battison, a Taseko vice-president.

"That is typical," Mr. Battison said. "Once they [CEAA]get a project description that's complete, then they take 90 days to do a bunch of things, but what they mainly do is decide what environmental process they will use to examine the project."

That decision, if and when it comes, is bound to be contentious, now that B.C. Premier Christy Clark has pushed the mine back into the spotlight and is lobbying Ottawa to approve it. Ms. Clark raised the issue of the mine in her first meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday, saying it was important for families and the provincial economy.

The B.C. government approved the Prosperity project - about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake - in January of 2010.

The mine would employ hundreds of people and generate millions of dollars in wages and tax revenue in a part of the province that has struggled with a decline in the forestry sector.

But in November, 2010, Ottawa said the copper-gold mine, as then proposed, could not go ahead, based on significant adverse effects that included destroying Fish Lake, a picturesque trout-bearing lake that would be drained to build the mine.

The Tsilhqot'in National Government, a group of bands that had spent years fighting the proposed open-pit project, hailed the federal decision.

But last month, Taseko submitted a revised proposal to CEAA that the company said would save Fish Lake - and add about $300-million to the cost of the mine, pushing it over the $1-billion mark.

Higher copper and gold prices - which have soared over the past two years - made the more expensive project feasible, Taseko says.

Taseko hopes the extensive work already done by the company, including consultation with native groups, will result in a streamlined approval process, Mr. Battison said, adding that many key aspects of the mine plan remain unchanged.

That idea doesn't fly with Ed John, Grand Chief of First Nations Summit, one of the groups that backed the Tsilhqot'in Nation Group in fighting the mine.

"I don't know that you can do end runs because you have a provincial premier who supports the project," Mr. John said on Wednesday.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act does provide for "recycling" parts of an environmental assessment in some circumstances, says Prof. Benjamin Richardson, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Law and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

It is "very rare" for a proponent to resubmit an application, he said.

Ottawa has said its decision on Taseko's original proposal was "final," but invited the company to redesign the project.

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