A federal environmental review panel has determined the proposed New Prosperity copper and gold mine would have significant adverse environmental effects.
The three-member Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel released its report late Thursday evening and said the proposed mine could negatively impact fish, grizzly bears and aboriginal rights.
Taseko is seeking to develop a property 125 km south of Williams Lake into an open pit mine and now must convince the federal and provincial governments to sign off on the plan despite the concerns outlined in the environmental assessment.
The report comes as a blow to the company which believed it had presented enough evidence to prove that there were no significant adverse effects. It's a win for First Nations and environmental groups which said the risk to the environment was too great.
The panel determined that if the mine was built it would have an impact on the water quality and fish habitat in Fish Lake. In its report the panel said it relied on evidence supplied by federal and provincial government experts which showed that Taseko underestimated the volume of tailings pore water seepage into the lake and that as a result it would harm fish.
The panel also found that the Tsilhqot'in had established and proven aboriginal rights in the area of the mine and that they used the parts of the area, including Fish Lake, for traditional and ceremonial purposes. The panel found, despite Taseko's assurances that First Nations people would have continued access to the lake, that the existence of the mine would have the potential to disrupt traditional activities.
Finally, the panel also found that grizzly bear habitat could be harmed as a result of the mine being built due the cumulative effects of other disruptions that already exist in the region. The panel noted that Taseko's mitigation plan could help but the panel also determined it would be difficult for the company to implement its plans.
The panel had to weigh potential economic benefits to the region - Taseko estimates over the lifespan of the project it will contribute $11 billion - against any environmental risks and the impacts on tourism operations in the region.
In addition to thousands of pages of written testimony, the panel had month of public hearings in Williams Lake and a number of First Nations communities in the Cariboo in July and August.
The federal government will review the report over the coming months and cabinet will eventually make a decision. It rejected Taseko's first proposal in 2010, which would have used Fish Lake as a tailings pond, when an environmental assessment determined there were significant environmental concerns.
The panel made clear in its report that it is not offering an opinion one way or another about the future of the mine, and said that decision should be left up to both levels of government.
Prior the the release of the report, Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen said how the federal government reacts to it could have national implications
Its not just about that one important project, but about the governments attitude towards things that are constitutionally protected and things that deeply matter to Canadians, like our air, land or water, he said.