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Taseko submits new waste plan to appease native concerns over Fish Lake

The offices of Taseko Mines Ltd. in Vancouver.

DARRYL DYCK/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The proponents of a stalled copper and gold mine in the B.C. Interior say they considered 15 alternatives for the disposal of mine waste to save a lake of significance to local natives.

That was narrowed down ultimately to two possibilities, and only one of those is feasible, Taseko Mines Ltd. said in documents submitted to the federal panel this week.

The original plan called for draining Fish Lake for a tailings storage site. That plan received provincial approval but was rejected by a federal panel in 2010, due largely to the impact the mine would have on the lake that is culturally significant to area bands.

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The new plan would see mine tailings stored upstream, in the Fish Creek South basin. In documents posted Friday on the review panel website, Taseko said the new plan limits direct impacts to a single watershed.

"Concentrating the effect of the project into a single watershed allows for greater control and containment of mine water and waste by limiting the number of pathways to the greater receiving environment and lessening the overall environmental liability upon mine closure," said a consultant report.

Russell Hallbauer, president of Taseko Mines Ltd., said the company looks forward to the project assessment proceeding after it submitted the additional information requested by the review panel. The review was put on hold in December when the panel said the environmental impact statement submitted by Taseko was insufficient.

"Each information request that was made by the review panel has been answered individually and provides the panel with a comprehensive response to the matters raised during the 45-day public review period," Mr. Hallbauer said in a statement.

There will be a 15-day public comment period before the panel decides if the updated environmental impact statement is sufficient to proceed to public hearings. The panel's final report to the Minister is expected within 235 days from the time the company submits the final environmental impact statement.

Several area bands oppose the mine, which they claim will affect fish and wildlife well beyond Fish Lake. Environmental groups such as Mining Watch Canada have said the New Prosperity plan still involves dumping 480 million tonnes of tailings – which can contain hazardous wastes such as arsenic, lead and cyanide – into the basin.

Mr. Hallbauer said the public hearings will give the company the chance "to share information and perspectives on the project and its environmental effects" and respond to concerns.

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The $1.1-billion project involved an open-pit mine to be located approximately 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake. The company has said the revised plan will cost an additional $300-million.

In addition to the impact on Fish Lake, the first federal review found grizzly bears and fish and fish habitat could suffer cumulative adverse effects from the mine. The documents submitted this week include plans to mitigate the impact on grizzlies.

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