February 27, 2014 3:00 am
Updated: February 27, 2014 3:36 am

Federal government rejects New Prosperity Mine project, west of Williams Lake

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The federal government has issued a statement saying the New Prosperity Mine project cannot proceed.

The proposed billion-dollar mine west of Williams Lake is one of Canada’s largest undeveloped copper-gold projects.

Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, said in a statement that the mine project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated.

“The Government of Canada will make decisions based on the best available scientific evidence while balancing economic and environmental considerations,” said Aglukkaq. “The Government will continue to make responsible resource development a priority and invites the submission of another proposal that addresses the Government’s concerns.”

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Vancouver-based company Taseko’s original proposal was rejected by the federal environmental minister in 2010, but the company was allowed to revamp the proposal to address concerns. It was then rejected again in September, 2012.

The business community and the Mayor of Williams Lake had shown support for this project as it would have created a lot of jobs for the region.  However, the Tsilhqot’in Nation were always opposed to the project.

They were concerned about a place called Fish Lake, which is small but is considered sacred to the Tsilhqot’in Nation. The federal government has now ruled the environmental impact on that lake would be prohibitive.

The provincial government has also backed this mine from the beginning, and made new mines a focus point of its jobs plan. Shortly after the news was announced, Bill Bennett, the MLA for Kootenay East and the Minister of Energy and Mines tweeted:

“We’re very disappointed here in British Columbia,” Bennett told Global News. “It represented hundreds and hundreds of high paying jobs for many many decades. The Cariboo area where this mine would have been built really could use those jobs and it has a lot of support from families in that area.”

“Even though we are disappointed and even though we believe that the mine can be built without the negative environmental implications that the federal government is worried about, I do, as one politician to another, I do understand that the federal politicians would feel obligated to follow the recommendations, the advice of their federal panel, I get that. So now really it’s up to the company to try to persuade, or prove, with evidence, to the federal government that in fact they can build this mine without that significant environmental harm.”

Bennett said this will set the city of Williams Lake back and the people that wanted jobs close to home will be disappointed.

“What’s at stake here is hundreds and hundreds of jobs that pay in the average range of $100,000 and better,” said Bennett. “It’s a chance to sustain small communities in the Cariboo region that have been hurt by the pine beetle epidemic, they were really hoping that the federal government would say yes. This is a very very bitter disappointment to them.”

Chief Joe Alphonse from the Tsilhqot’in Nation said as far as they were concerned this was a case of David vs. Goliath. “We felt like we were up against a monster, this is huge, this big huge company supported by every non-aboriginal politician out there,” he said. “We had to believe that we could do the best we can to represent our membership, to take the high road and stick to our values.”

He said they did the best they could to raise the profile of what they thought about the project and it paid off. “Eventually people are going to see things for what they really are and the right decision was made here,” he added.

“The message to industry and government representatives alike, is that if you want to move huge projects like this forward, treat us in a respectful way, come through our front doors and deal with us in a honourable manner, don’t get into, don’t use dirty politics.”

With files from Aaron McArthur.

WATCH: Tue, Dec 10, 2013 – It has already been rejected twice by a federal review panel because of environmental concerns but business leaders in B.C. are not giving up on the proposal for a billion-dollar gold and copper mine near Williams Lake. Keith Baldrey reports.

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