By Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee National Campaign Director
A couple of weeks ago our office at the Wilderness Committee had erupted in a rising babble of excited disbelief. All around me people were frantically logging on to their computers to get confirmation of some seemingly impossible news.
Our federal Environment Minister, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, had announced her rejection of Taseko Mines Limited’s proposed New Prosperity mine, located southwest of Williams Lake.
We could scarcely believe it, but it was true. Taseko’s proposed New Prosperity Mine project was dead—long live Fish Lake!
The proposed open pit copper and gold mine was truly a nightmare project. The size of the mine pit was estimated to become as large as 1.6 kilometres across. The tailings pond – if you can call something as big as four kilometres across a “pond”, would be held back by a dam as high as the hotel Vancouver. All of this situated in close proximity to beautiful little Fish Lake, deemed by the government of BC to be one of the best fishing lakes in the province.
Tsilhqot’in Nation territory encompasses the mining company’s staked area, including Fish Lake (which the Tsilhqot’in people call Teztan Biny in their language).
The Tsilhqot’in National Government has made it very clear for decades that they oppose the mine because of its potential impacts on the environment, and their right to access their own territory.
Many groups and individuals across Canada, including the Wilderness Committee, have supported the Tsilhqot’in in their efforts to defend their lands and waters against Taseko’s proposed mine. Just last year the Wilderness Committee published an education report entitled Save Fish Lake…again.
In fact this is the second time people have had to come together in support of the Tsilhqot’in over the defence of Fish Lake. Taseko Mines failed its first environmental assessment for an open pit copper mine at Fish Lake back in 2010.
The federal environment minister of the day said it was the most scathing report he’d ever read. But in a shocking development, the government of Canada granted the company another chance to state their case and a second environmental assessment was held. In 2011, Taseko submitted to the federal government a revised application which saved Fish Lake from being, as originally proposed, turned into a “pond” for mine-waste rock.
But the environmental and First Nations rights impacts were deemed by the federal environment minister to be too great, and now the mine has been turned down a second time.
The Tsilhqot’in and their allies are hugely relieved. That’s because when things go wrong at a copper mine, they go really wrong. Copper mines are notorious the world over for causing major pollution disasters.
So, will Taseko’s copper mine rise from the dead once again to haunt us? The government of Canada has offered to look at a revised mine project, but I think the only reason this was done was to avoid a compensation claim from the company. In my opinion Taseko’s terrible mine project is a dead duck. To force the Tsilhqot’in people to endure yet another environmental assessment process would be just plain cruel and I don’t believe it’s going to happen. The mining company will continue to huff and puff and attempt to bully its way – but I don’t think they will make much progress. The New Prosperity Mine is dead. Long live Fish Lake!
Here is a short list of copper mines that have wreaked a severe impact on the surrounding environment and people:
- Britannia Mine, British Columbia, Canada
- Mount Washington Mine, British Columbia, Canada
- Anaconda Mine, Nevada, USA
- Maracoper Mine, Philippines
- Mamut Mine, Sabah, Malaysia
- OK Tedi Mine, Papua New Guinea
- Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah, USA
- Mount Morgan Mine, Queensland, Australia