Tsilhqot’in angry over timing of permits issued for controversial New Prosperity mine
by Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun, July 18, 2017
The province, last Friday, issued drilling permits to Taseko Mines Ltd.’s controversial New Prosperity mine proposal while First Nations communities deeply opposed to it were busy dealing with wildfires and just days before a new government was due to take office.
For the company, it was an administrative decision that it expected months ago, which approved routine work related to the provincial environmental-approval process that it is continuing while it contests the federal government’s 2013 rejection of its $1.5 billion mine proposal.
However, Tsilhqot’in First Nation communities, which have long fought the mine proposal and oppose Taseko’s continuing development work, were outraged by the decision, which was revealed to them Monday while four of its six settlements were under evacuation orders and hundreds of their people were busy battling wildfires that threaten the settlements.
“It wasn’t a total shock, we knew (the decision) was coming,” said Russell Myers Ross, Chief of the Yunesit’in First Nation, one of the six Tsilhqot’in communities, “but the timing of it was incredibly insensitive, not only for us dealing with the fires and having almost no offices and no staff (but because) the new government is coming in and haven’t been briefed yet.”
Chief Roger William of the Xeni Gwet’in, another Tsilhqot’in community, was on a conference call Monday dealing with wildfire-related matters when he saw the email informing them of the decision.
“I was angry, I was blown away,” William said.
“To hear that the decision from (the government), which we were waiting for since February, to come down in the middle of a crisis, that’s frustrating,” William said.
The chiefs said the Tsilhqot’in plan to oppose the permits, first by filing a claim for judicial review of the decision in B.C. Supreme Court and then an application for an injunction to block the work if necessary.
In an email to community leaders Monday, senior mines inspector Rick Adams said he appreciated that “this may come at a difficult time for you given the wildfire situation affecting some of (their) communities,” but he had made the decision Friday and “must honour my previous commitment to provide you with timely notification.”
The proposed New Prosperity mine lies 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake in the heart of territory the Tsilhqot’in communities consider culturally important and have designated as the Dasiqox Tribal Park.
The federal government has twice rejected New Prosperity over environmental concerns, although Taseko is disputing that second rejection in Federal Court, as well as the conclusions of a federal review panel government relied on in making its decision.
Taseko spokesman Brian Battison said the case was heard in Federal Court over several days in January and February and both sides are awaiting a decision.
The project has a provincial environmental assessment certificate that was issued in 2010 and extended by former environment minister May Polak in 2015.
The three permits issued Friday authorize Taseko to build 76 kilometres of trails, drill 122 holes, excavate 367 test pits and cut 20 kilometres of seismic lines. Battison said the work would gather geotechnical data for the mine-permitting process, if the project gets that far.
Battison said Taseko made its application for the work last November and the decision “should have been much earlier than this,” given the province’s objective to deal with such administrative permits within 60 days.
“There is a clock ticking in the background,” Battison said, referring to its provincial environmental permit, which has already been extended once and expires in 2020. “There is no time to waste.”
To the Tsilhqot’in, however, notwithstanding Taseko’s legal challenge, “this is a dead project,” said Ross. “That’s why it’s on top of insult that they are allowed to go back in and do more testing and drilling.”