More than 400 people showed up Monday at the first day of public hearings into Taseko’s proposed $1-billion open pit gold and copper mine near Williams Lake, B.C.Taseko says the New Prosperity project will create about 700 direct jobs and produce $10 billion in revenue for the federal and provincial governments over its 20-year lifetime.
Williams Lake business owner Lorne Doerksen says the mine would be a huge benefit to B.C.’s Cariboo region.
“That amount of money coming into this community could really help,” he said. “It’s been a tough time in our town for a number of years. It’s sort of rebounding a little bit now … The forest industry has gone through a real tough cycle. They are coming out of it, but we still see a community shrinking.”
Ervin Charleyboy, a former chief of the Alexis Creek First Nation, attended the hearing with a blue scarf draped around his neck — a symbol worn by those who support the New Prosperity mine.
Charleyboy didn’t always support the project, but now believes the mine is desperately needed to bring jobs to the region. “I see my young people living from welfare cheque to welfare cheque every month,” he said. “We’ve got nothing out there. After logging, we will have nothing.”
Meanwhile, those opposed to the project waved signs bearing slogans like, “Our lakes are worth more than gold.”
Xeni Gwet’in councillor Marilyn Baptiste believes the mine will have devastating consequences for the local environment. “It’s very angering to our people,” she said. “Why do we have to go back and review another proposal?”
Taseko provided an overview of the project on the first day of hearings, including new plans to move the project’s tailings pond so Fish Lake can be preserved. The company had initially proposed to drain Fish Lake in an earlier application rejected by the federal government in 2010. The project would be located about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
The hearings are scheduled to continue until mid-August. Public hearings for a controversial open pit gold and copper mine near Williams Lake are wrapping up this week.
The federal government is reviewing Taseko’s New Prosperity mine proposal for the second time. Ottawa rejected the project in 2010 over concerns the mine would destroy nearby Fish Lake. The new proposal will no longer turn the lake into a tailings pond.
But UBC fisheries professor John Stockner told the panel the mine will destroy a large portion of the lake’s wetlands, ultimately killing the fish.
“Fairly soon, the impact will roughly destroy 40 to 50 per cent of the wetlands that drain into the system, and its productivity is completely based upon on what happens in its drainage,” he said. “The amount of organic production in the lake will settle to the bottom, and the fish — within a decade, maybe two — will be asphyxiated one cold, February night. The oxygen will be depleted, and fish, like us, require oxygen.”
The panel also heard from project proponents, who maintain there will be a minimal impact to the environment. Supporters also spoke about the project’s economic benefits. Taseko claims the mine will create about 700 direct jobs, and $10 billion in revenue over the mine’s 20-year life span.
“We need this mine,” said John Meech, professor of mining engineering at UBC. “It’s one of the top 10 copper-gold ore bodies in the world. And the question isn’t should we mine, but when will we mine?”
The final community hearing is today in Dog Creek. Final remarks are on Friday in Williams Lake. The federal government is expected to make a decision on the project some time this year.