First Nations leaders from communities near the existing Gibralter mine said their negative experiences with Taskeo Mines should be considered by the panel conducting an environmental review of the New Prosperity proposal.
During Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency hearings earlier this week at the Esdilagh First Nation, Chief Bernie Elkins said proposed New Prosperity open pit copper and gold mine about 125 kilometres south of Williams Lake should be rejected due to his people's history with the proponent.
"You would think if a company's going to be here for 30 years they would take that time to cultivate a good working relationship," he told the three-member federal review panel. "And what we've found is we've got a take it or leave it approach [from Taseko]. And that's the way it is. I'm hopeful that might change, but it doesn't depend on me. It'll take more communication."
Taseko representatives used their opportunity to question Elkins about meetings the company has had with members of his band over the years dealing with environmental and economic issues.
Later, Taseko senior vice-president of operations John McManus said the company heard the concerns and it's willing to work with Aboriginal groups.
"There's a frustration and anger towards the company and towards the province and towards the federal government for continuing to move forward on a project such as this with the impacts which they're concerned about," McManus said. "We, as a company, will try, and we'll continue to try, to address those impacts especially around the protection of the lands and rivers and fish and the medicines and foods that these people rely on so heavily, and we want to do that."
Among the specific issues Elkins addressed during his presentation was a 2009 incident where effluent from a pipe at the Gibralter mine spilled. The chief said he's concerned about a similar event happening if New Prosperity is built.
McMancus later replied that the company was sorry for the 2009 spill and has taken steps to ensure it wouldn't happen again at Gibralter or at New Prosperity.
"There were protocols and training put in place," he said. "Some of our people did not follow the protocols and training that they had and there's some pretty severe consequences around that."
The Gibralter facility is 40 years old and McMancus said the industry has evolved significantly over the ensuing decades and many of those teachings will be applied to New Prosperity.
Among the concerns some band members expressed during the day-long hearing was the impact the Gibralter mine is having on animals and plants in the area and the need for further study. Thomas Billyboy said he no longer picks berries in areas downwind from Gibralter and there's certain meat he'll no longer eat because he doesn't know if it's safe.
He's afraid that flora and fauna could be hurt in the Fish Lake area if New Prosperity is built.
"They are going to contaminate the water and it will be as if you're urinating in the water," Billyboy said through a Chilcotin translator. "How can they not destroy the water? They are just, you know, talking and listening to each other, talking about money. Money has become their mind, [it] has become their god."
Taseko chief engineer Greg Yelland acknowledged there have been unscrupulous mining companies operating in B.C. in the past, but he insisted Taseko isn't one of them.
"The days of mining companies leaving the scars on the land I believe are over," he said.
Despite the problems his band has had with Taseko in the past and its ongoing opposition to New Prosperity, Elkins said he's not against to all mineral extraction. In fact, he said he's often at odds with some fellow chiefs due to his pro-mining stance.
"We are opposed to irresponsible mining, the type of mining that has made B.C. the largest home for contaminated sites in Canada," he said. "This type of mining in which an absentee owner of the mine benefits while any debts or failures are socialized and placed as a burden on the shoulders of the people that live the closest to the mine and ultimately are impacted the most by the mine."
The panel will continue community hearings at area First Nations through Tuesday. Final arguments are slated for Aug. 23 in Williams Lake.
After the hearings close the panel will have 70 days to prepare a recommendation to the federal government.