Canada panel says revised Taseko mine plan may harm environment

Reuters

By Nicole Mordant

Nov 1 (Reuters) - A revised mine plan for Taseko Mines' New Prosperity copper-gold project in British Columbiastill poses significant threats to the environment and nearbycommunities, a Canadian federal review panel said late onThursday.

Water quality in a trout-bearing lake beside the proposedmine, fish in the lake, land and resources used for traditionalpurposes by certain Aboriginal groups, and their culturalheritage would be most at risk from the project, the panel said.

The grizzly bear population in south-central BritishColumbia will also suffer unless mitigation steps are taken, thethree members of the panel said in their 323-page report.

"Fish in Fish Lake and wetland and riparian ecosystems nearFish Lake and Wasp Lake might not meet the needs of futuregenerations," said the panel, set up by Canada's environmentminister in 2011.

The panel is not a decision-making body but its report willplay a key role in the final decision by Canada's environmentminister on whether the project should go ahead.

The Canadian government is expected to decide whether theopen pit mine can go ahead within 120 days, meaning a decisionis likely by the end of February.

Taseko could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ottawa in 2010 overruled British Columbia's provincialgovernment and blocked the development of the Taseko projectbecause of worries over its environmental impact.

Taseko has said the revised plan addresses regulators' concerns. But aboriginal groups and other opponents of theproject say the revised proposal, if approved, would still harmFish Lake and the rights of indigenous groups in the area.

Taseko, a mid-sized copper producer, expects the project tocreate close to 2,000 jobs and generate more than $1 billion ingovernment revenue, the report said.

Taseko submitted its environmental impact statement to thepanel in 2012, and public hearings on the project were held this year.

The panel made several recommendations if the project doesget approved, among them urging Taseko to re-route atransmission line to avoid areas of cultural significance to an Aboriginal group.

CIBC analyst Tom Meyer estimates the development of NewProsperity could cost C$1.8 billion ($1.72 billion) and a minecould produce 44,000 tonnes of copper as well as 206,100 ouncesof gold a year.

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