BY JONATHAN FOWLIE, VANCOUVER SUN NOVEMBER 2, 2010 5:46 PM COMMENTS (15)
VICTORIA — The federal government on Tuesday blocked the controversial Prosperity gold-copper mine project in B.C.'s Chilcotin, citing what it labelled to be "significant" environmental concerns.
Announced by federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, the decision overrules the B.C. government, which had given full approval for the major project to proceed.
"We believe in balancing resource stewardship with economic development," Prentice said in a written statement.
"The significant adverse environmental effects of the Prosperity project cannot be justified as it is currently proposed."
B.C's Minister of State for Mining Randy Hawes called Ottawa's decision "disappointing," but said he is not yet ready to declare the project dead.
"We should go back and take a look and see if there's a way that this can be represented and restructured in a way that could work so that it could gain the approval," Hawes said, adding he had already talked to the company behind the project, Taseko Mines.
"I frankly think what they [the federal government] want to see is some changes and some restructuring of the project, if it's possible," he added.
Taseko Mines had been proposing an open pit mine at a site near Williams Lake, promising that the estimated $815-million project will create hundreds of new jobs in the economically struggling region over a minimum 22-year mine life.
The company has already spent $100 million and 17 years on this project to get approvals.
In its decision, the federal government pointed to the fact the mine would result in the destruction of Fish Lake, Little Fish Lake and portions of Fish Creek.
A federal review panel that looked into the project had already determined 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 news hammered shares of Taseko Mines, which fell 25 per cent to $4.89 (U.S.) in after-market trade in the United States.
Local municipal governments were in favour of the mine, but first nations that consider the proposed mine area part of their traditional territory had been expressing strong opposition because the project would require the elimination of a 111-hectare fish-bearing lake.
On Tuesday, Williams Lake Mayor Kerry Cook called the decision very disappointing.
"We've supported the project from the beginning. The reason why we've supported that is we felt there was far more opportunities with a 'yes' decision," she said, adding there had been hope the mine would bring jobs, training opportunities and other business opportunities to the area.
"Now what we're really going to have to do is look a little bit harder to find those opportunities with a 'no' decision," she added.
"We're going to survive this. There's no doubt about it."
The Tsilhqot'in First Nation, which had long opposed the project, celebrated the decision.
"The federal government has honoured its Constitutional duty to protect First Nations rights and its responsibility to protect the environment. The government should be commended for recognizing that this project did not represent the best way to create jobs and economic growth," Tsilhqot'in National Government Tribal Chief Joe Alphonse said in a written statement.
"The Tsilhqot'in Nation understands the need for jobs in the region and believes it can work with municipalities and others to build on the environmentally friendly economic activities."
Premier Gordon Campbell could not be reached for comment Tuesday, though in a high-profile speech last month, he argued forcefully the project should be allowed to go ahead.
"When you have a project like the Prosperity Mine, which has gone through process after process after process, consultation after consultation, 17 years, received environmental approvals, received support, we should actually get on with sending the message that mining is here in British Columbia," he told delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference.
"We're going to do it responsibly, and this government says let's get on with the Prosperity Mine in this province."
On Tuesday, New Democratic Party leader Carole James said the federal government's decision raises serious questions about B.C.'s environmental assessment process.
"I think it shows the province is tossing aside any environmental issues when it comes to economic development in B.C.," she said, adding she believes the federal government made the right decision.
"They had no other choice but to reject this project when you look at the First Nations concerns, and when you took a look at the environmental impact of eliminating an entire lake in the Williams Lake area," she said.
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