Ottawa grants controversial New Prosperity mine another chance

First Nations groups furious that Fish Lake copper-gold project is back on the table.

VANCOUVER -- Taseko Mines Ltd. said Friday that attempts to revive its New Prosperity gold and copper project took another step forward Friday as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency formally accepted the company's new project description for the proposed mine.

The decision means a federal environmental assessment of the project will start by Nov. 7.

"Under a comprehensive study, which is the process we expect for New Prosperity, CEAA will have 365 days in which to complete its review and submit a final report to the federal minister of the environment,'' Taseko president and chief executive Russell Hallbauer said.

However, the news, which saw the company's stock soar 17.34 per cent, or 56 cents, to $3.79 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, drew an immediate negative response from area First Nations, which called on Ottawa to halt what they called a "continuous drain on everyone's time and resources'' and to reject Taseko's rebid.

"If the Canadian government wants to reduce its deficit, then cancel this process,'' said a statement issued by the Tsilhqot'in National Government.

"It will prevent the frivolous spending of tax money consistently being wasted to review a mine that will not go through,'' the release quoted TNG Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse as saying.

"Today's announcement by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency merely finds that the company has finally completed their project description up to the point where a next step could be considered. The fact remains that this bid, which was presented to the previous expert panel and deemed worse than the original plan, fails to address any of the environmentally scathing issues that led to the first proposal being rejected,'' he said.

The Prosperity project was killed by Ottawa last year after a negative environmental assessment of a plan that would have turned Fish Lake into a tailings pond.

The company has since reworked its design to save the lake.

The revised plan adds $300 million in capital and operating costs to the proposed mine, which was previously expected to cost about $800 million.

The company has estimated that the project would create 700 construction jobs for two years and 550 direct jobs and 1,280 indirect jobs over its 20 year operating life.

However, Chief Marilyn Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet'in also criticized the revised bid, saying it was "clearly not an improvement.''

"The only major change is that instead of killing Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) outright, it would render it inaccessible, destroy the smaller adjacent lake that is essential to its self-contained wild trout ecosystem and leave open the option of killing the lake later during the proposed extended 33-year lifetime of the mine,'' the two chiefs said.

"The plan does not address the impact on endangered grizzly bear and their habitat and in no way removes the irreversible damage to current and future First Nations title and rights, including archeological and cultural sites.''

In addition to the Prosperity project, Taseko owns a 75 per cent stake in the Gibraltar mine and several other development stage projects in B.C..

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