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Fish Lake, B.C. (Sibylle Zilker/The Globe and Mail/Sibylle Zilker/The Globe and Mail)
Fish Lake, B.C. (Sibylle Zilker/The Globe and Mail/Sibylle Zilker/The Globe and Mail)

Lodge owner reveals contradictions in Fish Lake mine-approval process Add to ...

A wilderness lodge owner whose business sits near the proposed Prosperity Mine in Interior B.C. is speaking out over what he sees as a contradictory approach by government to economic development and environmental protection in the region.

The province in 2004 rejected an expansion proposal from Taseko Lake Lodge over environmental and aboriginal concerns.

So Siegfried Reuter was stunned when the province in January approved the proposed Prosperity gold-copper mine, an $800-million open-pit project that would destroy a lake and require a new, 125-kilometre transmission line and a new access road.

"With a 35-hectare application, we were turned down on fish and first nation concerns," Mr. Reuter said. "It wasn't like we wanted to change this site here to a Whistler or a Banff - we were simply looking to build a high-end wilderness destination lodge."

Mr. Reuter had applied for a Crown grant as part of his plans to refurbish and expand Taseko Lake Lodge, a one-time hunting camp that Mr. Reuter and his wife purchased in 2000 and from where they now run camping, horseback tours and canoe trips into nearby territory.

A 2004 letter to Mr. Reuter says that "there are specific First Nation issues within the boundaries of this application concerning traditional and cultural use. In addition, the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection have brought forth information that development within the boundaries of this application would impact fish habitat including salmon and blue-listed Blue Trout."

Every application submitted to the province "is reviewed and processed on an individual basis," a government spokeswoman said Thursday. "Economic benefits are carefully weighed against risks of potential environmental damage or risks of potential impact on first nations' rights and interests."

By economic standards, the Taseko Lake Lodge is a minnow. It hosts small groups of visitors and is primarily a summer operation.

By contrast, Vancouver-based Taseko Mines' proposed Prosperity Mine is a major industrial project that would employ hundreds of people, pump millions into an economically bruised region and generate steady tax revenues for regional and provincial governments.

Taseko has spent millions on studies and regulatory reviews for the mine, which would be located about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake. The province approved the project in January, after a review that concluded the long-term economic benefits of the mine outweighed the adverse effects - including the loss of Fish Lake - that would result from the mine being built.

In July, a federal review panel concluded the project would have significant adverse environmental effects.

Under Taseko's proposal, Fish Lake would be replaced by a new, artificial lake called Prosperity Lake, which would be stocked with fish. The federal review panel found that "it is unlikely that the plan would meet the requirements for the establishment of a self-sustaining rainbow trout population, or a replacement First Nation food fishery."

Ottawa is expected to decide on the project as early as this month.

Indian bands in the area are strongly opposed to the project, which is backed by business groups and many local politicians.

Taseko has estimated it would spend $5-billion over the 20-year operating life of the mine.

B.C.'s wilderness tourism sector generates about $1.5-billion in direct revenues a year. The mining sector generated $7-billion in sales last year.

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