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Public invited to meetings on Prosperity Mine proposal

VANCOUVER - Residents concerned about a proposed large open-pit mine in central B.C. will have an opportunity in early June to learn how to get involved in the federal environmental assessment of the project.

Public hearings -- where local First Nations and environmental groups are expected to speak against the proposal -- will be held later in the summer.

The Prosperity gold and copper mine is being developed by Taseko Mines Ltd. for a site 125 km southwest of Williams Lake, B.C., in the upper watershed of the Fraser River. It would involve an open pit mine more than a kilometre in diameter and half a kilometre deep.

It would also completely overtake the adjacent Fish Lake, using it and the surrounding valley to store mine tailings and waste rock.

"Fish Lake will, in essence, be handed over to the mining company," said Ecojustice environmental lawyer Lara Tessaro.

In order to compensate for the loss of Fish Lake, Taseko Mines proposes to construct “Prosperity Lake” as a replacement farther upstream.

The company estimates that the project would employ 500 people, producing 108 million pounds of copper and 247,000 ounces of gold annually over a 20-year operating period.

A new, 125 km-long electrical transmission line would service the mine.

The meetings in June are being held by the secretariat to the independent review panel to explain the assessment process to people who want to participate.

The project must be approved by both federal and provincial environmental assessments in order to proceed. In January, the federal government announced that their assessment would be conducted by an review panel of independent experts, who will make recommendations to the federal Environmental Minister.

The provincial assessment will be made by staff at the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.

Early on in the process, there had been expectations that the two governments would use a joint, independent review panel. The duplication concerns Tessaro, who describes it as a “divide and conquer” approach.

“If the province gets out in front of them and approves it quickly ... then that puts the federal government under pressure to rubber-stamp the proposal,” she said.

Tessaro contrasts the process being used for Prosperity Mine with the “rigourous environmental and cultural assessment” performed by a joint review two years ago for a similar project at Duncan (Amazay) Lake near Smithers, B.C.

The panel in that case decided that the long-term environmental effects and disruption of the traditional uses of the lake by local First Nations outweighed the temporary economic benefits of the proposed Kemess North mine.

Seven public information sessions on Prosperity Mine will be held June 7 to 11. The members of the review panel will decide in late June whether they are ready to proceed to public hearings, or if they need additional information from Taseko Mines.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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