Vale says the federal government’s decision this week to reject the Prosperity Mine project in British Columbia will have no effect on its plan to use Sandy Pond for the disposal of tailings from its hydromet processing plant in Long Harbour.
Vale spokesman Bob Carter said Wednesday the project was registered with both the federal and provincial governments for environmental assessment in March 2006, and following an extensive public review, both governments approved Vale’s environmental impact statement and released the project from environmental assessment in 2008.
“We have all of the necessary federal and provincial approvals we require for the Long Harbour project,” he said. “The recent federal decision on the Prosperity Mine project does not affect our plan to use Sandy Pond for residue disposal.”
The decision against the proposed B.C. gold-copper mining project near Williams Lake was announced Tuesday by Environment Minister Jim Prentice. It was based on the conclusions of a federal review panel that the mine would have significant adverse effects on the grizzly bear population, in addition to destroying Fish Lake and damaging other streams.
The Tsilhqot’in First Nation, which considers the area their traditional territory, had launched a campaign against the proposal and the Council of Canadians delivered 15,000 petitions to Parliament Hill, opposing the project.
While the decision is being celebrated as a victory by environmental groups, it has also prompted a call for the protection of other lakes in the country, including Sandy Pond.
The Taseko application for Prosperity Mine was made under a Schedule 2 provision of the Federal Fisheries Act.
“Once added to Schedule 2, healthy freshwater lakes lose all environmental protections,” the council said in a news release, noting “there are 12 other lakes in Canada threatened by Schedule 2, including Sandy Pond.”
Maude Barlow, national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, said, “We must now ensure that other lakes across the country are protected by ensuring that the loophole in the Fisheries Act is removed and that the practice of dumping toxins into lakes is prohibited in Canada as it is in other industrialized countries.”
A group called the Sandy Pond Alliance launched a lawsuit in June, seeking the removal of metal mining effluent regulations from the Federal Fisheries Act. Lawyer Owen Myers says that court challenge is still ongoing with a decision expected soon on applications for intervener status from Vale, the Mining Association of Canada and Mining Association of British Columbia.
“We have all of the necessary federal and provincial approvals we require for the Long Harbour project.” - Vale spokesman Bob Carter
Angela Giles of Halifax, the Atlantic region organizer with the Council of Canadians, was in St. John’s this week attending a Sandy Pond Alliance annual general meeting. On Wednesday, Giles spent some time visiting Long Harbour.
“I think it’s definitely hopeful that the federal government has made this landmark decision,” Giles said. “… We are still hopeful to save Sandy Pond and any other Canadian bodies of water that may be under threat of falling through the cracks under Schedule 2 of the Fisheries Act.”
Ken Kavanagh, newly elected chairman of the Sandy Pond Alliance and chairman of the St. John’s chapter of the Council of Canadians, cited the federal government’s concern about Fish Lake and its connecting streams.
“If the environmental impact is specifically related to damage to that particular pond in B.C. then, from our perspective, I think we would say that’s kind of making chalk of one and cheese of another,” Kavanagh said, “because this particular project here is doing the ultimate damage to Sandy Pond. It’s going to destroy it.”
Kavanagh is pleased with the decision.
“If any lake in Canada is saved from destruction by any means, we’re obviously happy and I guess I would say, certainly, we’re hoping what happened there might have some bearing on the situation we’re trying to do in terms of saving Sandy Pond.”
Sierra Club B.C., which has actively supported the Tsilhqot’in First Nation’s opposition to the Prosperity Mine, said Fish Lake would have been Canada’s fifth pristine natural water body authorized for destruction through this Fisheries Act loophole, which was originally introduced solely to allow mines already approved and in existence to complete their economic life cycle.
“It boggles my mind that the B.C. government would have even considered destroying a huge, well-stocked fishing lake that is of great significance to an indigenous community, and is surrounded by cultural sites including First Nations burial grounds,” said Sierra Club B.C. executive director George Heyman.