Teztan Biny – Fish Lake: Tsilqot’in territory

Another mining company (and complicit advocates) learns the hard way that turning lakes and waterbodies into acid-generating waste rock tailings facilities is not an acceptable form of economic development.

Teztan Biny/Fish Lake from Globe and Mail article: Xeni Gwet'in

Yesterday, a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) Panel ruled that Taseko Mines Ltd. proposed Prosperity Project on the Chilcotin Platau (west of Williams Lake, BC) would have significant environmental effects and the Panel ruled that the project should not go ahead as proposed:

The Panel concludes that the Project would result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title. The Panel also concludes that the Project, in combination with past, present and reasonably foreseeable future projects would result in a significant adverse cumulative effect on grizzly bears in the South Chilcotin region and on fish and fish habitat.

The Executive Summary of the CEAA Panel is available online.

In short, my read of the summary is that the panel basically suggests: ‘Taseko Mines, what the hell are you thinking…?’ There isn’t really much in the summary that suggests anything good about the project going ahead.

Fish Lake – Teztan Biny – is suggested to have anywhere between 75,000 – 90,000 resident rainbow trout. Taseko was proposing to drain, dam, and re-flood this lake so that it could be used as a tailings facility for acid-generating waste rock and waste materials from the milling process to extract copper and gold. By submersing these materials underwater the acid-generating process is slowed.

To compensate for the loss, Taseko was going to create a “new” lake: “Prosperity Lake.”

Here’s the kicker… the newly created “Prosperity Lake” was only going to support 20,000 rainbow trout.

That makes sense… especially when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a specific policy called “No Net Loss” for fish habitat. If fish habitat has to be destroyed then new habitat has to be created at an equal or better level. (I won’t comment on the level of assumption required here, or the complete lack of monitoring to ensure this is met, or lack of funding to do it, etc…)

The numbers speak for themselves on this one issue with the lake.

Yet, that was not all that the CEAA Panel found issues with; it’s a solid list of issues.

My question is what the hell does this say about the BC Environmental Assessment Agency, which approved this project last January?

Their conclusion was that: yes, the proposed project would have significant environmental affects; however the economic benefits were worth it.

So in essence, they attached a dollar value to all of the negative impacts that the federal enviro assessment agency identified.

While the B.C. assessment foresaw harm to the environment, it concluded that was outweighed by a predicted $5-billion economic injection over the 20-year life of the mine and $600-million of revenue for various governments.

From Globe and Mail article yesterday:  Harper to decide fate of controversial B.C. mine

So does this mean that the folks on the BC Environmental Assessment Panel – and the current BC government which fully supports that BC EA decision and not the CEAA decision of yesterday – feels that a 90,000 rainbow trout lake, vital grizzly bear habitat, aboriginal rights and title, traplines, guide outfitter territory, tourism (the Provincial government actually has a “postcard” of Fish Lake in their recent tourism material), and ranch-grazing land is all worth $600 million in government revenues and a few hundred jobs — for a period of only 20 years (the proposed life of the mine)?

This is of course all based on the assumption that stock markets remain firm and commodity prices such as gold & copper (the main minerals to be extracted from this proposed mine) remain high. Anyone who has watched the markets over the last couple of years (or longer) recognizes the danger in this giant assumption.

These are curious dollar figures to contemplate as a society and further pushed to balance: economic vs. environmental.

Here’s another serious problem. As, the Globe article suggests:

Richard Walker, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, said the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is independent and he did not comment on what the government will do.

Yet, the BC government counterparts don’t seem to get this issue. EA panels are independent review bodies… because of exactly this issue. Government officials tend to have some issues with respecting this part of democracy:

Bill Bennett, B.C.’s Mining Minister and a former fishing guide, will push Ottawa to give the green light to the mine, located about 250 kilometres north of Vancouver.

“I’m not rape and pillage. I’m a life-long conservationist,” Mr. Bennett said in an interview. “If this was what some people have said it is, an environmental travesty, I wouldn’t support it either.”

A final answer will come by early September, as cabinet has 10 weeks to make a decision, a spokeswoman for the review panel said.

“We frankly would like to see this project happen,” Mr. Bennett said. “I’ll be discussing this with my federal counterparts to whatever extent they’re willing to talk to me about it.”

Mr.Bennett… that’s exactly the problem with you, your colleagues, and your current leader… you’ve already made up your mind before the enviro assessment panels are done their work. Even when an independent review panel of experts on the issue rule that the project is too risky… you and your colleagues decide to do things “to whatever extent” you need to.

You’re supposed to act on the will of your constituency and even on the decisions of independent review panels (that’s the whole point); not the will of your political party and water cooler colleagues.

An independent review panel of three experts in this matter have ruled that it will be largely an environmental and social travesty if the project goes ahead. Seems to be spelled out in the ruling…

7 thoughts on “Teztan Biny – Fish Lake: Tsilqot’in territory

  1. Priscilla Judd

    Good post. I was excited to hear about the decision then sad to hear the Federal Government doesn’t have to accept the recommendations. The world is watching the Fraser Institute run our country – resource extraction is “rape and pillage” trees, fish, water, oil, minerals what ever it takes it kills the ecosystem that took millions of years to create. If Mr VanderZalm has his way, Mr.Bennett will be recalled with the rest of them.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    …don’t you love BC politics? Only a few more years until Glen Clark and Mr. Harcourt resurface after their Premier resignations? Looks like we’ll be seeing another classic BC flip-flop shift in power. And sadly Mr. Bennett and his counterpart Randy Hawes in the BC Mining minister have made their bias clear on where they stand on projects such as this. At the absolute base level of numbers, the Prosperity project is absurd. Currently, Fish Lake (oh… the irony) – Teztan Biny – supports somewhere around 85,000 rainbow. The “new” lake will only support 20,000. That sounds like a significant loss of habitat; which is direct shot in the face of DFO’s “No Net Loss” to habitat policy. Not to mention the long-term monitoring required of the dam that will hold the mine waste and tailings back. Long-term meaning FOREVER (not to forget that Fish Lake drains into the Taseko River, which drains into the Chilko River (one of the few Fraser sockeye runs hanging on by a thread).

    The company Taseko Mines Ltd. can walk once the mine is done producing and their “reclamation plan” complete. Or, they can simply dissolve into bankruptcy, or simply stop existing as an entity, and responsibility of the mine reverts back to the “Crown” — i.e. the federal government, meaning all Canadians. The list of “abandoned” mines that the federal government already has responsibility for is a longggg list; just look up the Faro Mine in the Yukon. Once one of Canada’s darling mines, one of the largest lead and zinc mines going — it reverted back to Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) control in 1999. It’s an absolute mess – and adding mess to a salmon bearing river. Similar to the Keno area in the central Yukon near the community of Mayo; more “abandoned” mines.

    My experience in north-central and northwestern BC — a terrible legacy of abandoned mine sites. And yet, the industry wants to continue to develop without cleaning up the messes of old. Great legacy.

    It’s a tough one though, because I don’t want to be the classic NIMBY (not in my backyard) philosophy. If mining can’t occur in B.C. it will unfortunately happen in other areas without the same environmental and political safeguards. There are some Canadian mining companies operating in foreign countries that have utilized very questionable tactics… it’s a very tough situation…

  3. kim

    That such a proposal even was considered is mind boggling, but maybe not so in this era of neoliberalism and corporate globalization.

  4. salmon guy Post author

    Yeah, it’s definitely a challenging issue – and unfortunately, water bodies as mine tailings facilities is only going to grow more common unless loopholes in the Fisheries Act and the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations are changed. Doesn’t seem a possibility any time in the near future with the recent further watering down of the Environmental Assessment process in the latest federal budget just passed.

  5. theriverkayaker

    Where’s the referendum voting system in this country???
    you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that using lakes and their watersheds as tailings ponds is just wrong wrong wrong!!!
    anyone thinking other wise is lacking common sense,and is morally
    and or financially corrupt.
    It’s Gods country up there at Teztan Biny, and the last thing God needs up there is cash.

  6. DONALD ROBERSON

    I read the very succinct summary of the review panel. It is posted on the Taseko mines website. http://www.tasekomines.com/tko/Prosperity.asp
    It is a good deal more positive about the project than much of media suggests. Note the last several points copied and pasted from the report summary below:

    EFFECTS OF THE ENVIRONMENT ON THE PROJECT
     the effects of the environment on the Project would not be significant;
    REPORT OF THE FEDERAL PROSPERITY REVIEW PANEL
    – 240 –
    MEASURES TO ENHANCE ANY BENEFICIAL ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS
     the proposed mitigation measures would not result in an enhancement of beneficial
    environmental effects; and
    ACCIDENTS AND MALFUNCTIONS
     the proposed mitigation measures, emergency plans and commitments to address
    the possibility of accidents and malfunctions are adequate.

  7. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment.
    Not sure where Taseko is quoting that from… and no kidding they’re a bit more positive — they have a bit of a vested interest (about $90 million or so to date). You can access the Executive Summary from the Canadian Enviro Assessment Panel report on the Prosperity project:
    http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/050/documents/43937/43937E.pdf

    And it clearly states:

    The Panel concludes that the Project would result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title. The Panel
    also concludes that the Project, in combination with past, present and reasonably foreseeable future projects would result in a significant adverse cumulative effect on
    grizzly bears in the South Chilcotin region and on fish and fish habitat.

    That is in addition the BC Environmental Assessment Panel, which approved the project, even without enough information on fisheries:

    The British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office undertook a separate but coordinated review of the Project and the provincial decision was announced in January, 2010. The Province’s conclusion was that the Project would have a significant adverse effect on fish and fish habitat but that the effects were justified in the circumstances.

    I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if Harper and his buddies think that they have more experience and knowledge in evaluating the environmental effects of major projects such as the proposed Prosperity project.

    I tend to go a bit more with an “independent” review panel set up for exactly this purpose, as opposed to a desperate, minority government that seem for intent on bickering about fighter jet contracts, hockey rinks, and gun registries… and from the horse’s mouth of the company that maybe should have reviewed the Kemess North Environmental Assessment review that was completed in 2007 when Northgate Minerals learned a $32 million (or so) lesson about trying to use lakes as tailings facilities in the face of First Nation community opposition.

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