A UBC professor dismissed First Nations opposition to the proposed New Prosperity copper and gold mine because aboriginals use "modern conveniences" fabricated with minerals.
In his final argument to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency reviewing the application by Taseko Mines to construct an open pit mine south of Williams Lake, UBC mining engineer professor John Meech said the Cariboo region has "an obligation to offer mined
commodities for trade on the global marketplace."
Meech argued that First Nations concerns about the environmental and culture impacts of the development must be taken in the context of how modern aboriginals use the land.
"First Nations use TVs, cell phones, guns, trucks, and many modern conveniences to conduct
their traditional ways (hunting, fishing, collecting berries) and to participate in our modern
world," he wrote. "All these items rely on mining. If we don't mine then we are transferring temporary disturbances that we may encounter in our country to the Third World where mining is done in a much less regulated fashion leaving behind permanent damage."
The month-long environmental assessment process began with general topic hearings in Williams Lake. Those were followed by technical hearings on specific topic areas and community visits to local First Nations.
Throughout the hearings, proponents have emphasized the important role a new mine would play in reviving the region's economy, while opponents have cited environmental concerns for fish, grizzly bears and other wildlife.
The federal government rejected Taseko's first attempt to acquire an environmental certificate in 2010, but left the door open for the company to re-apply. The new plan no longer calls for Fish Lake to be transformed into a tailings pond. Instead a new tailings pond would be constructed upstream.
Not all local businesses expect to see a benefit if a mine is build. Taseko Lake Lodge owner Kelly Reuter said his tourism business would be decimated if the mine is built near his resort.
In his final argument Reuter told the panel that he and his family would have to move if the mine is built.
"My hope is that you clearly see this mine is neither wanted or welcome by us, our First Nation neighbors, our local non-First Nation community and concerned citizens, and various environmental groups who are openly and honestly facing the real environmental issues," Reuter wrote. "I also hope that you will not miss the fact that the economics of this mine do not outweigh the impacts and risks to the environment and people who depend upon this environment."
Meech counter-argued that mine would actually enhance eco-tourism opportunities in the region because mine tours could be incorporated into visitors' vacation plans.
"The story of how Fish Lake has been saved through Canada's environmental assessment process could be told to the world together with how governments, First Nations, and mining companies work together to reduce poverty and create new wealth," he wrote.
In its closing argument, Natural Resources Canada told the panel that the model used by Taseko to calculate possible seepage from the tailings pond into ground water contain "inherent limitations." The government department asked the panel to give more weight to its projections, which have a higher seepage rate than the model put forward by Taseko.
The panel will hear oral closing arguments on Friday in Williams Lake.