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Fish LakeXeni Gwet'in First Nation

Taseko Mines has submitted an environmental impact statement for its New Prosperity mine in B.C.'s interior, setting the stage for public hearings and renewed debate over the $1.1-billion project.

The company said Thursday it had submitted an EIS to the three-person panel reviewing the project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

The submission is a key step in Vancouver-based Taseko's bid to salvage the project, which the federal government turned down in 2010 over environmental concerns. Taseko has since redesigned the mine to save picturesque Fish Lake and address other issues raised by the federal review.

The previous mine plan would have drained Fish Lake and put a tailings storage facility nearby. The revised proposal retains Fish Lake and shifts a tailings facility 2 1/2 kilometres upstream.

"It's an additional $300-million commitment to environmental responsibility – which is primarily the preservation of Fish Lake," Taseko spokesman Brian Battison said on Thursday.

When the pit is at its biggest, the edge would be about 500 metres from Fish Lake, according to a video on the company's website.

The proposed mine, located about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, would tap a large, low-grade copper-gold deposit that's been on and off the development burner since prospectors explored it in the 1930s.

Spurred by healthy commodity prices, Taseko has been pursuing the project in earnest since 2006. But its development plans have met with fierce opposition from area first nations and environmental groups.

The B.C. government approved the project in 2010, saying environmental impacts were justified based on economic benefit expected from the project. Some community groups and politicians backed the project as a boon for an area that has been hit by a downturn in the forestry sector in recent years.

In November, 2010, the federal government nixed the project as it was then designed, citing "significant adverse environmental affects."

Taseko then came up with its revised mine plan. If approved, the project is expected to take two years to build and operate for 20 years.

In November, 2011, Ottawa announced that the revised mine plan would be assessed by a federal review panel. Earlier this month, the panel issued a call for submissions for public hearings. A date for those hearings has not yet been set.

The revised proposal does not adequately address environmental concerns, including long-term impact on fish and wildlife in the area, Xeni Gwet'in Chief Marilyn Baptiste said on Thursday.

"Having the entire Fish Lake surrounded by such a massive project is not saving Fish Lake," Ms. Baptiste said.

Currently, Taseko's only operating project is the Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine, which had been mothballed until the company restarted it in 2004.

In July, the CEAA said a draft EIS submitted by the company lacked information and did not meet requirements of the review process. In a letter filed in response, Taseko said its draft was "by definition, not intended to be complete nor final but rather a preliminary version."