With only days to go before a federal agency is to announce whether it will review a revised Prosperity mine proposal, critics claim the province has jumped the gun by giving the company a green light to build roads and drill at the site.
"It's outrageous that the B.C. government has granted Taseko Mines permission to build 23.5 kilometers of roads, and to make 59 test pits and 18 drill holes," Sierra Club BC Executive Director George Heyman said Thursday in a statement. "We don't even know yet if Taseko's revised Fish Lake mine proposal will be accepted for federal environmental review. This shows a blatant disrespect for due environmental assessment processes."
Mr. Heyman was referring to a licence provided by B.C.'s ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
The permits relate to routine preparatory work of the same sort that Taseko has done on the site for the past 20 years, Taseko spokesman Brian Battison said, adding that the company applied for the permits in May.
"You need to spend money in order to inform the [environmental assessment] process and a large amount is spent even before you get in that process," Mr. Battison said.
A representative from B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said the province will consider permit requests from Taseko as they are received, taking into account relevant legislation and whether the permit request falls under federal jurisdiction.
Vancouver-based Taseko has spent the last four years pursuing regulatory approvals to build the Prosperity mine, a copper-gold project about 125-kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
In November 2010, following a federal panel review, Ottawa said the Prosperity project as it was then designed could not go ahead because of environmental concerns.
Those concerns included the destruction of Fish Lake, a picturesque, trout-packed lake that would have been destroyed building the mine.
Following that setback, Taseko revised its proposal, coming up with a plan that retained Fish Lake and added $300-million to the cost of the project, pushing it to $1-billion.
The Tsilhqot'in National Government, representing six area bands, says the company's revised proposal – which Taseko had previously ruled out as uneconomic but says it can now afford because of higher metal prices – does not address the environmental concerns raised by the original plan. The TNG remains opposed to the project.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is expected to announce November 7 whether an environmental review will be required for the project and, if a review is required, what form it would take.
This is the first time that a project rejected by a federal review panel on environmental grounds has been modified and resubmitted to the agency.