Taseko Mines says panel’s mistake on lake contamination is ‘outrageous’

VANCOUVER – The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is reviewing a complaint from the company proposing a $1.5-billion mine in British Columbia’s Interior that a mistake was made in a joint environmental assessment of the project.

Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO) said the error is so outrageous it’s nearly unfathomable.

In a letter to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the company questioned why the panel conducting an environmental review on the proposed New Prosperity mine would use incorrect information for its final assessment.

On Tuesday, the agency confirmed that the information provided by Taseko was being reviewed by officials within the agency.

It didn’t say what action, if any, would be taken if Taseko’s claims are proven correct.

Earlier this month, an agency panel released a report saying it didn’t believe Taseko’s design for the proposed copper and gold mine could avoid contaminating nearby Fish Lake. The survival of the lake is at the centre of the dispute.

The assessment found the project would have “severely adverse environmental effects” on water quality, fish and fish habitat in the lake, on grizzly habitat and on First Nations traditional activities.

The project was already rejected by Canada’s environment minister after the first environmental assessment because the company proposed using the lake as the tailings pond.

Brian Battison, vice-president of corporate affairs at Taseko, said one of the main goals of the second review was to show that the lake could be preserved in an environmentally sound way.

“Of course this all hinges around water quality and the seepage rates from the tailings facility and that’s where Natural Resources Canada got it wrong and the panel relied on their wrong conclusion to come to their findings,” he said in an interview.

In a Nov. 8 letter to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Taseko noted that the tailings facility would be two kilometres from the lake, “and any seepage, should it get to the lake in the next 200 years, will not in any case be toxic.”

Both letters from Taseko said Natural Resources Canada didn’t just have a different view of modeling over the seepage of the tailings pond — it was using a different project design altogether.

“It would appear that the information provided by Taseko in our written submissions or testimony made no difference to NRCan’s assessment,” stated the letter to Yves Leboeuf, vice-president of operations for the federal environmental agency.

Taseko’s letter said it used valid, scientific evidence from respected experts who believe the tailings pond wouldn’t contaminate the lake. The company would not speculate over the source of the error.

“What happened is they relied on Natural Resources Canada’s assessment of the plan that was not the Taseko plan — that’s with respect to the tailings storage facility,” Battison said in an interview.

Natural Resources Canada referred media inquires to the federal environmental agency.

The project has the support of area mayors and the local Liberal MLA, but faces staunch opposition from several local First Nations and environmental groups.

Under the Environmental Assessment Act, Aglukkaq must make a decision about the project within 120 days of the environmental assessment being released.

If she rejects the project, the federal cabinet has the final say on whether the significant adverse effects would be justified in the circumstances.

The project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and it behooves everyone involved to make sure all the information is given the weight it deserves, Battison said.

“This information now corrects the record. It will not be up to the minister to ensure that this project is evaluated in a fair and objective manner.”