A proposed $1.5-billion mine that has twice been rejected by Ottawa because of environmental concerns appears to have been given new life, much to the dismay of First Nations and other critics.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Tsilhqot'in National Government, which has been fighting to stop the Taseko Mines Ltd. proposal for years, said it is alarmed the company plans to conduct test drilling for the New Prosperity gold and copper mine.
"It is unbelievable and unacceptable that [Taseko] continues to waste everyone's time, energy, money and goodwill," the Tsilhqot'in stated. "The project cannot proceed in the face of the federal government rejection."
The mine was approved by the B.C. government early in 2010, but Ottawa rejected it later that year after completing a federal environmental review. The federal government ruled against New Prosperity a second time, in 2014, after the project came back for review with an altered plan that didn't include draining Fish Lake to dispose of tailings.
In its second ruling, Ottawa concluded that despite the changes, the project "is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated."
But Taseko never gave up on the mine, which would produce 247,000 ounces of gold and 108 million pounds of copper over an estimated 20-year lifespan.
In a recent announcement, Taseko said the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office is proceeding with a request to amend the project's environmental certificate.
An amended certificate would allow Taseko to pursue the project through a narrow process that requires a review of proposed changes only, and not another full environmental assessment.
The company also said it is filing a "notice of work" with the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines "to advance mine permitting" by doing field work at the site, 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
"The New Prosperity environmental assessment process has been unduly influenced by the actions of the federal government," Russell Hallbauer, president and CEO of Taseko, said in a statement. "The fact that the government of British Columbia is moving forward with the certificate amendment process indicates the importance it places on the development of the New Prosperity Mine."
He said the field work is to gather new information that will help with a scientific review of concerns raised by the federal environmental panel.
In an e-mail, the B.C. Ministry of Environment said the province "is legally obligated to review Taseko's application to amend its environmental assessment certificate."
The statement said the process will include consultation with aboriginal groups and consideration of several other factors, including legal challenges Taseko has made to the federal government's environmental-assessment ruling.
But Chief Roger William, vice-chair of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, said the project simply should not be revived.
"We're certainly very disappointed … Why is B.C. even looking at this?" he said.
Mr. William said he is waiting for the company to file more information on its plans.
"We don't know what type of drilling, how much drilling or what it's for," he said. "I think our people will be angry."
George Heyman, environment critic for the B.C. NDP, said the company's announcement is disturbing.
"I don't believe it's possible for this mine to go ahead without federal approval. Even if federal jurisdiction was to be successfully questioned, which I doubt, the Supreme Court has made it clear you need consultation and licence from the affected First Nations," he said. "The [federal] assessment found there would be very negative impact on the affected First Nations."
Mr. Heyman said the provincial government should work with mining companies "to develop claims where there is social licence, minimal impact on the environment and First Nations acceptance, not where there is major environmental impacts and firm opposition from First Nations."
Andrew Weaver, B.C. Green Party Leader, said he is shocked the B.C. government is still supporting the project.
"This government is just trampling over the rights of the Tsilhqot'in, it's trampling over federal jurisdiction, it's trampling over due process. It's all about this government trying to get to yes [on resource development], no matter what the question is. I just can't believe it," he said.