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Federal review of Fish Lake plan flawed, Taseko Mines argues

Former Xeni Gwet'in First Nations Chief Roger William stands at the edge of Fish Lake near Williams Lake, B.C., in September 2010.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver-based Taseko Mines says a federal review panel relied on the wrong information in preparing a recent report that concluded the company's plans to preserve a picturesque lake near its proposed New Prosperity mine likely would not work.

In a statement on Wednesday, Taseko said the three-person review panel for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency used a design and modelling provided by Natural Resources Canada rather than the company's design, which was prepared by an engineering firm and featured a lining intended to prevent chemicals from leaching out of a tailings storage site into Fish Lake.

The review panel looked at a design that did not include a lining, Taseko said.

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In an e-mail, a CEAA spokeswoman said the agency would not comment on Taseko's claim that the panel analyzed the wrong information, or the panel report itself, which it is still reviewing.

Fish Lake, also known as Teztan Biny, has been at the heart of a long-running battle over the project. An earlier proposal, which the federal government rejected in 2010, included draining the lake and filling it with waste rock. Taseko submitted a revised, more expensive plan to the CEAA that would preserve the lake.

On Oct. 31, the review panel issued a report that concluded the mine would likely cause significant adverse environmental effects on Fish Lake and that proposed water quality objectives "are not likely achievable." It also said that even with expensive water mitigation measures, protection of Fish Lake water quality was "unlikely to succeed in the long term."

The Tsilhqot'in National Government, which represents six area bands that oppose the project, welcomed the panel's report, saying it should be the death knell for the controversial project. Environmental groups have also urged the federal government to heed the panel's conclusions and reject the mine.

In a telephone interview from Ottawa on Wednesday, Chief Joe Alphonse, Tsilhqot'in Tribal Chair, called Taseko's position a "joke," saying the company is trying to salvage a project that has been reviewed twice with the same conclusion – that it would result in significant adverse environment effects.

"There has been no mistake," Mr. Alphonse said. "This is not elementary school – these were high-level people, professional people, who were reviewing this project. They [Taseko] are trying to find a different angle to discredit the panel."

Supporters say the project, which is projected to have an operating life of 20 years, would create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars for the province.

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The decision now goes to federal environment minister Leona Agglukaaq, who has four months to review the panel's decision. If the minister concludes the mine would result in significant adverse environmental effects, the federal cabinet would then have to decide whether those effects could be justified.

Taseko on Wednesday said it will challenge certain aspects of the panel's findings, maintaining that the design the panel relied on is "completely different" than Taseko's design.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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