Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett is in Ottawa Thursday to press for federal approval of the New Prosperity copper and gold mine proposed near Williams Lake.
Bennett spoke at a news conference organized by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce before leaving to meet with four federal ministers. He said the recent decision by Canfor Corp. to close its Quesnel sawmill in March is not the last of the bad news for the Cariboo-Chilcotin as the mountain pine beetle infestation takes its toll on the forest industry.
“Certainly the government if British Columbia is well aware that there is serious opposition to this project from the Tsilhqot’in people, and we respect that opposition,” Bennett said.
He said 37 per cent of B.C.’s mining royalties now go to First Nations through revenue sharing agreements, and there is more the province can do to work with the Tsilhqot’in communities that have fought against the Prosperity mine through two federal assessments.
Taseko Mines, which operates the nearby Gibraltar copper mine that is the region’s largest employer, revamped its design for Prosperity after it was rejected in the first federal review. After the second set of hearings, Taseko applied for a judicial review, saying the panel overlooked the use of a barrier in the mine tailings storage.
John Meech, a mine engineering professor at the University of B.C., said the new design not only protects nearby Fish Lake, but will enhance fish habitat.
“I base my assessment on a designed seepage rate that matches what is happening at two other mines in the region, Gibraltar and Mt. Polley, and anyone who tells you that the seepage rates are in error is not telling you the truth,” Meech said.
Ervin Charleyboy, former chief of the Alexis Creek First Nation, said he has been shunned by the current Tsilhqot’in chiefs for supporting the new mine design.
“I want a future for my grandkids,” Charleyboy said.
Tsilhqot’in leaders have appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada in their long-running case to have their traditional territory declared independent from B.C.