Tsilhqot'In Seek Injunction to Halt Drilling & Road-building and Protect their Court-affirmed Rights

Measured and costly legal action seeks to find a reasonable way forward

WILLIAMS LAKE, BC, Nov. 15, 2011 /CNW/ - In response to attempts by Taseko Mines Ltd. (TML) to begin exploration activities near Teztan Biny, the Tsilhqot'in Nation on Monday November 14th filed an injunction against the company to halt its plans for extensive road-building, drilling, excavation of test pits, and timber clearing in support of its unprecedented and controversial resubmitted bid for approval of its soundly rejected Prosperity Mine project.

The Tsilhqot'in have already filed an application for Judicial Review to invalidate or suspend the work permits prematurely issued to TML by the Provincial government, on the grounds that the Tsilhqot'in were not properly consulted and their serious concerns were ignored. The Tsilhqot'in Nation has proven Aboriginal rights to hunt and trap throughout the area and a ruling from the B.C. Court of Appeal is expected any day.

"We are seeking every reasonable path available to us, despite our limited resources, to ensure that Tsilhqot'in rights are protected in the face of a company and a government that do not understand how unique and important this area is to our communities," said Chief Joe Alphonse, Chair of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, which represents six First Nations.  "We view the B.C. exploration permits as illegal as they have failed to accommodate our already proven Aboriginal rights to this area - rights which will be adversely impacted by the significant amount of roads, drilling and test pits proposed by the company."

Xeni Gwet'in Chief Marilyn Baptiste said: "Our people are deeply frustrated that having defeated this project last year, we are now faced with having the company once again cause extensive destruction - using permits issued in breach of our consultation rights - in an effort to promote a mining option that TML, Environment Canada, and the first federal review panel have all clearly stated is worse than the company's preferred plan.

"We are particularly offended that the company is claiming this work is needed to save Teztan Biny when its own chief engineer and other officials told the review panel last year that the option now being pursued cannot save the lake, would poison it in the long run, would kill its support ecosystem, and raise other environmental concerns," said Chief Baptiste.

Five weeks before it was even known if there would be a federal review of this company's rebid, BC issued permits to TML to cut timber and build over 23Kms of road, to drill, clear timber and dig large pits. This provincial permitting came on the heels of an independent audit which showed the BC Environmental Assessment Office engaged in deeply flawed "rubberstamp" process for the original Prosperity Mine project.  This process also failed to meet the minimum standards as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Ten facts that show why resubmitted Prosperity Mine proposal cannot be approved

  1. The CEAA review panel process was very different from the BC EAO rubber-stamp decision. Its report found immitigable, devastating impacts to the local fish stocks and endangered grizzly populations, and to the existing and future rights of the Tsilhqot'in and its youth. Then Environment Minister Jim Prentice described the report's findings as "scathing" and "probably the most condemning I have ever read."
  2. The company knows its new option is worse than its first plan. TML's V.P. Corporate Affairs, Brian Battison, was clear in his Mar. 22, 2010, opening presentation to the CEAA hearings, when he stated: "Developing Prosperity means draining Fish Lake.  We wish it were otherwise.  We searched hard for a different way. A way to retain the lake and have the mine.  But there is no viable alternative.  The lake and the deposit sit side by side.  It is not possible to have one without the loss of the other."
  3. The point was emphasised by TML's VP of engineering, Scott Jones, who stated: "What happens to the water quality in Fish Lake, if you try and preserve that body of water with the tailings facility right up against it, is that over time the water quality in Fish Lake will become equivalent to the water quality in the pore water of the tailings facility, particularly when it's close."  
  4. This proposal does not address the issues that led to the rejection of the first bid last year. Fish Lake will be affected by the toxic waste and eventually die, and it will be surrounded by a massive open pit mine and related infrastructure for decades.  The Tsilhqot'in people will not have access to their spiritual place, and the area will never be returned to the current pristine state.
    It is not even new. It is "Mine Development Plan 2."  TML states on page 20 of its project submission: "Option 2 is the basis for the New Prosperity design …The concepts that lead to the configuration of MDP Option 2 have been utilized to develop the project description currently being proposed."
  5. This option was looked at and rejected last year by the company, Environment Canada and the CEAA review panel. For example, page 65 of the review report states:  "The Panel agrees with the observations made by Taseko and Environment Canada that Mine Development Plans 1 and 2 would result in greater long-term environmental risk than the preferred alternative."
  6. The new $300 million in proposed spending is to cover the costs of relocating mine waste a little further away. There is nothing in the 'new' plan to mitigate all the environmental impacts identified in the previous assessment. TML states in its economic statement: "The new development design, predicated on higher long term prices for both copper and gold, would result in a direct increase in capital costs of $200 million to purchase additional mining equipment to relocate the tailings dam and to move the mine waste around Fish Lake to new locations. This redesign also adds $100 million in direct extra operating costs over the 20-year mine life to accomplish that task." In fact, this new spending is actually $37 million less than the company said last year it would have to spend just to go with the option that it and the review panel agreed would be worse for the environment.
  7. The federal government is required under the Constitution to protect First Nations, which have been found to be under serious threat in this case, and is internationally committed to do so under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These duties are every bit as clear regarding this resubmitted proposal.
  8. Approving this mine would show the Environmental Assessment process is meaningless, and would demonstrate that governments are ignoring their obligations -  as the Assembly of First Nations  national chiefs-in-assembly made this crystal clear this summer in their resolution of support for the Tsilhqot'in.
  9. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has opposed this project since it was first raised in 1995. It soundly rejected it again last year. It has no reason to support it now. Nor does Environment Canada, which, as the CEAA report noted last year, also found option 2 to be worse than the original bid.
  10. There are many other more worthy projects to be pursued - the vast majority of which, if not all will require working with aboriginal communities. Natural Resources Canada estimates there is $350 billion-$500 billion worth of such potential projects in Canada.  Governments, industry and investors do not need to go backwards by pushing this confrontational proposal and rebuffing efforts by First Nations to find a way to create a better mining system that would benefit everyone in the long run.

SOURCE Tsilhqot'in National Government

For further information:

Media Contacts: JP Laplante, TNG Mining Manager: 250-267-3759  Chief Marilyn Baptiste: 250-267-1401

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Tsilhqot'in National Government

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