On November 2, 2010, despite prior approval by the British
Columbia government, the Government of Canada denied approval of
the Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine (the "Project") proposed
by Taseko Mines Ltd. ("Taseko").
Taseko proposed a large open pit gold-copper mine 125-km south
west of Williams Lake, British Columbia. In addition to the open
pit mine, the Project proposal included an onsite mill and support
infrastructure, a tailings storage facility, a 125-km long
electrical transmission line, explosives factory and magazine and
an access road. The mine site would cover a 35 square km area
in the Fish Creek watershed, which drains into several other
waterbodies in the surrounding area, including Taseko River, Fish
Lake and Little Fish Lake. The development of the Project
would result in the necessary destruction of Fish Lake, Little Fish
Lake and portions of Fish Creek to allow for the tailings storage
The Project was subject to both provincial review by the British
Columbia Environmental Assessment Office ("EAO") and
federal review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
("CEAA"). The provincial and federal review
processes were undertaken separately.
The provincial EAO review process was completed in December
2009. In its report, the EAO found that after mitigation, the
Project would not result in significant adverse effects, with the
exception of the loss of Fish Lake and Little Fish Lake. The
EAO also found that the Project would make a significant economic
On the basis of the findings of the EAO report, and while the
federal review was ongoing, the BC Minister of Environment and
Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources approved the
Project on certain conditions on January 14, 2010.
A federal environmental assessment of the Project was also
undertaken as the Project required authorization by the Department
of Fisheries and Oceans to permit the destruction of fish and fish
habitat, Natural Resources Canada for the construction and
operation of an explosives factory and magazine and Transport
Canada for the placement of the dam in Fish Creek and the placement
of the transmission lines over Big Creek and the Fraser
In its July 2, 2010 report, the CEAA review panel concluded 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 federal panel also concluded 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 region and on fish and
fish habitat. Of particular interest is the Panel's
conclusion that Taseko would not comply with the DFO's No
Net-Loss Policy. The federal review panel did recognize that the
potential employment and economic benefits of the Project were
considered by many to be beneficial.
On the basis of the federal review panel's report, the
Government of Canada determined that the significant adverse
environmental effects of the Project, specifically the permanent
destruction of water bodies, could not be justified by the economic
benefits of the Project and approval of the Project by any of the
responsible federal authorities was denied.
The use of existing waterbodies as tailings impoundment areas
has always been controversial and Taseko's Project is not
the first where this has been proposed and denied federal
approval. The likelihood of federal approval for such a scheme
is more unlikely when traditional users can demonstrate continued
use or reliance on the waterbody. In addition, project proponents
should consider compliance with DFO's No Net-Loss Policy to
be mandatory. Finally, while it is desirable that that end pit
lakes or tailings impoundment areas contain suitable fish habitat
post-closure, project proponents should not claim that this
comprises suitable fish habitat compensation for the purposes of
DFO's Policy or to address local concerns.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Canada is a constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary democracy and a federation comprised of ten provinces and three territories. Canada's judiciary is independent of the legislative and executive branches of Government.
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