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Controversial Prosperity mine proposal gets second chance

Chiefs from the Tsilhqot'in Nation of south-central B.C. are against the Taseko open pit mine, which would discharge toxic waste into Fish Lake.

Globe files/Globe files

A controversial proposal for a massive copper and gold mine in British Columbia will get another chance to become reality after Canada's Environmental Assessment Agency agreed to a second review of the mine.

Taseko Mine's original proposal failed the federal government's first environment review, but the company has launched what it's calling its New Prosperity proposal.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent instructed the agency to set up a process that will review the environmental concerns raised in the past assessment and consider the mining company's changes.

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With higher, longer-term prices for copper and gold, Taseko said it would spend an extra $300-million on the project to address the main concerns of the last environmental rejection, including the preservation of Fish Lake.

Several Interior native groups opposed the project because the original mine proposal would see the destruction of the lake, which they consider culturally significant.

Tsilhqot'in First Nation Chief Joe Alphonse said he's "disappointed and deflated" by the decision to review the mine again.

He said natives all around the proposed site have concerns about water quality, possible damage to salmon runs and lost archeological opportunities as the land is buried by 720 million tonnes of mine waste.

"The time is not right, the technology is not right," Mr. Alphonse said. "The environmental cost is just too high. We're not willing to go that route."

A spokesman for the mining company said Taseko is pleased with the second chance.

"This is an important project both for Canada and the province. It will mean thousands of jobs," said Brian Battison, a Taseko spokesman.

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"It's important that everybody uses their best efforts to make this opportunity a reality and we're certainly doing that."

The mine site, southwest of Williams Lake in B.C.'s Cariboo region, is one of the largest undeveloped gold and copper deposits in Canada.

Taseko said it is prepared to invest more than $1-billion for estimated proven or probable reserves of more than one million tonnes of copper and 7.7 million gold ounces.

It's not just the environmental issues that concern Mr. Alphonse. He said Taseko hasn't properly managed its relations with his band.

"There's so much water under the bridge that we'd never engage in any relationship with this company," he said.

"There's no respect on both sides. We don't respect them and they don't respect us. I'll be honest about that."

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The B.C. government approved the first application of Taseko under its Environmental Assessment Act before the federal government rejected the plan.

Before she was elected premier, Christy Clark pledged to press Ottawa to change its decision on the mine.

As premier, Ms. Clark promised in her job-creation plan that eight new mines would be running by 2015, although she didn't name the mines.

Provincial New Democrat critic Doug Donaldson said forcing the mine project through without the support of local natives will create an atmosphere of distrust and conflict.

Mr. Donaldson said in a news release that the B.C. Liberal government's failure to work with the Tsilhqot'in people means the project doesn't have the social licence to go forward.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs expressed its "anger and exasperation" at the news that there will be another review.

"Taseko's New Prosperity mine proposal is the slick repackaging of a dead proposal. Taseko has simply applied more mortician's makeup to their already failed Prosperity mine project proposal," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, said in a news release.

Taseko Mines issued an economic study on its proposed $1.5-billion New Prosperity Mine last month saying it would generate $9.8-billion in revenue for the federal and B.C. governments over 20 years.

The company submitted a revised proposal for development of the mine in June after the mine proposal was rejected last year.

The study said employment would increase in the area by 71,000 jobs and consumer spending would increase by $9-million.

The Canadian Press

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