The fate of a proposed $1-billion copper-gold mine in Interior British Columbia now rests with Ottawa after a three-person federal review panel raised several warning flags over the mine's potential impacts on water, wildlife and aboriginal culture.
But even as opponents say the panel's report should be the end for the New Prosperity mine, the company behind it says it will fight to keep the project alive.
"On balance, the report does not stop this project from being approved," Brian Battison, a spokesman for Vancouver-based Taseko Mines, said on Friday.
"The [review panel] report in most respects agrees with our assessment. The risks are modest and the social and economic benefits are enormous."
Groups that have been fighting against the mine disagreed, saying the three-person panel flagged multiple, significant adverse impacts that Ottawa is not likely to overlook.
"The science is so clear and this report was so honest and so scathing, if that's the right word, that I think it would be really difficult [for Ottawa to approve the project]," said Sierra Club B.C. executive director Bob Peart. "It would be flying totally in the face of the values of the aboriginal people."
The Tsilhqot'in National Government, an umbrella group for six First Nation communities in the vicinity of the project, also said the panel review's findings should spell the end for New Prosperity.
"First Nations will be outraged if the federal government accepts this project after rejecting the first one," TNG spokesman Joe Alphonse said in a statement.
"The federal government now has what it needs to finally put a nail in the coffin."
Taseko has spent decades pursuing a plan to build an open-pit copper-and-gold mine about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
In January, 2010, the B.C. government approved a plan – known then as Prosperity – that would have drained Fish Lake and used it to store waste rock.
In November of that year, Ottawa ruled the project as it was then designed could not go ahead because of significant adverse environmental impacts that included the loss of Fish Lake.
Taseko then reworked its plan to save Fish Lake and the revised project went to a Federal Review Panel.
On Thursday, the panel released a report that found "several significant adverse environmental effects" and said the company's plans to preserve the lake were not likely to succeed.
B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett said he is hopeful the federal government will give the revised proposal a green light.
But he criticized the federal environmental review process, saying it is inevitable that it would find significant adverse effects from a large-scale open-pit mine.
Ottawa should consider whether those risks can be mitigated to an acceptable level, given the social and economic benefits the mine offers, he said, adding that, "I think the impacts can be mitigated."
Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq has four months to respond to the panel's report.
If she decides the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, the federal cabinet will decide whether or not the significant effects would be justified.
With reports from Justine Hunter in Victoria