The debate surrounding the proposed New Prosperity gold and copper mine doesn't simply pit pro-development non-aboriginals against environmentalist aboriginals, the Fish Lake Alliance wrote in its final argument to the environmental review panel examining the project.
The alliance, composed mainly of non-aboriginals, opposes the project on both environmental and economic grounds. It said the plan by Taseko Mines to build an open pit mine 125 km south of Williams Lake is not what the region needs.
Aboriginal opposition to the project has dominated the discussion in recent weeks as the three-
member Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel toured area First Nations to hear from leaders, elders and community members. Many Aboriginals in the Cariboo are worried that the project could hurt fish stocks as well as their ability to hunt big game and gather berries.
The alliance said it stands together with the local First Nations, but First Nations aren't the only ones against the idea of a mine in the area.
"We think many residents of the Cariboo have bought in to a hollow promise of economic
prosperity based on exaggerated rhetoric," David Richardson wrote on behalf of the alliance. "The group that would benefit most if this mine is developed would be distant shareholders, not local stakeholders."
Cariboo Chicoltin Liberal MLA Donna Barnett is one of the mine's supporters, touting its potential to inject new life into the region's economy. Barnett said the Cariboo is need of new industry after the mountain pine beetle devastated area forests, putting the region's long-term economic future in doubt.
"We say we are worried about the future for our young people, we are concerned about keeping
the land base strong, ensuring good jobs, health care, education and social programs," Barnett wrote. "This mine project will ensure all of the above will occur."
Barnett said she campaigned on a platform of economic development and her resounding win in May's election should count as proof many of her constituents are in favour of the mine.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International cited universal human rights standards for making its case against the project. The advocacy organization said United Nations standards should be applied to ensure the voice of aboriginals is given appropriate weight in the proceedings.
"Given the evidence that has been presented of significant, irreparable harm to the Tsilhqotin peoples culture, heritage, well-being and use of the land, and the fact that the Tsilhqotin have explicitly refused their consent to the project, the proposed project should not proceed," the organization wrote in a 12-page submission.
Community hearings at First Nations wrap up today. The panel will take Thursday off before hearing oral final arguments on Friday in Williams Lake.
The panel has 70 days after hearings conclude to issue a recommendation to the federal government. The cabinet will decide is Taseko should be issued a certificate to proceed with the mine's development. Provincial approval is also required, but the province did give the first version of the Prosperity mine a green light in 2010.