VANCOUVER - The company behind a proposal to develop a billion-dollar gold and copper mine in the British Columbia Interior lashed out at critics Friday in its parting words to a federal review panel, as well as the long process that has already seen the mine rejected once by the federal government.
In a written argument filed ahead of the final day of hearings on Friday, the lawyer for Taseko said panel members have been misled about the mine proposed 550 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.
"There is no doubt that a great deal of misinformation was the product of an organized campaign designed not to inform the panel’s decision, but calculated to stop the project from proceeding," said the submission to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel that spent the previous five weeks holding hearings in surrounding communities.
"Taseko believes that opponents to the mine in aboriginal communities have used culture and heritage inappropriately as a weapon by exaggerating the value of the areas that will be impacted by the mine and their use of those particular lands and resources for cultural purposes."
The company said they also have "fundamental concerns about fairness of process" because of repeated breaches of panel procedures.
The company repeatedly criticized a previous federal environmental review panel whose report led the federal environment minister in 2010 to reject a previous plan to develop the deposit that would have destroyed a lake of significance to area First Nations.
"Taseko did what it was asked to do by modifying the proposed project in very substantial ways to address the concerns identified by the previous panel, and despite the fact that Taseko believes that several of those concerns were not based on a proper application of the relevant criteria," the company said in its parting words to the latest panel.
The deposit is the 10th largest undeveloped gold-copper deposit in the world — at least nine million wedding rings' worth — and for half a century since its discovery, it has remained buried among the pristine lakes and mountains of B.C.'s wild Chilcotin region.
Estimates indicate 2.4 billion kilograms of copper and about 377,000 kilograms (13.3 million ounces) of gold are at the site. The company estimates the mine would generate 550 direct jobs and $340 million in gross domestic product annually.
Opponents — including some First Nations groups, members of the public and groups including Amnesty International and Mining Watch Canada — said the risks for the environment, First Nations culture and wildlife outweigh the rewards.
"The cultural impacts of the project alone are significant, immitigable and of tremendous consequence for the long-term mental and physical health of the Tsilhqot’in communities and the survival of the distinctive way of life that they have maintained through generations of resolute commitment and sacrifice," the Tsilhqot'in National Government told the panel in its final submission.
The plan to preserve Fish Lake — Teztan Biny to them —is unproven, they said.
"This project cannot be 'justified in the circumstances.'"
Although First Nations have been the most vocal opponents, it's not an issue of aboriginal versus non-aboriginal, said David Richardson, of the Fish Lake Alliance, in a statement filed with the panel ahead of final submissions on Friday.
"We think many residents of the Cariboo have bought into a hollow promise of economic prosperity based on exaggerated rhetoric," he wrote. "The group that would benefit most if this mine is developed would be distant shareholders and not local stakeholders."
The main issue remains the long-term survival of Fish Lake, which originally would have been drained for use as a tailings pond. Taseko said it can prevent contamination from groundwater seepage from a tailings pond now to be located several kilometres away.
Submissions to the panel showed no small amount of support, from councils from the surrounding communities of Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and Quesnel to the area's Liberal member of the provincial legislature.
"Without an approval for Prosperity Mine, the future of the Cariboo-Chilcotin is bleak," MLA Donna Barnett said in a letter filed with the panel.
She noted the devastation wreaked by the mountain pine beetle on forestry, the crux of the local economy.
"Lobbyists that oppose resource development are just that — lobbyists — who are opposed to everything," Barnett wrote.
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