Category Archives: Mining

KSM Mine promises epic gold, copper, jobs…and waste

The location of one of KSM's three proposed open pit mines (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska)
The location of one of KSM’s three proposed open pit mines (Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska)

The $5.3 billion proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine, which received BC government approval yesterday, boasts one of the world’s largest gold and copper deposits. But with big promises of jobs and ore come serious concerns over the staggering volumes of tailings and acid rock drainage the three-pronged mine could produce.

Its 2 billion tonnes of tailings, for instance, represent 6-7 times the volume slated to be produced by nearby Red Chris Mine.

Located in the northwest corner of the province, the project is made up of three neighbouring mountains from which proponent Seabridge Gold estimates it could mine 10 billion pounds of copper, 133 million ounces of silver, 38 million ounces of gold and 200 million pounds of molybdenum. Seabridge is trumpeting 1,800 jobs during construction and 1,000 permanent jobs once the mine is up and running.

Province touts “family-supporting jobs”

Employment opportunities seem to have been the key driver of the BC government’s approval. “This will be a major employer, not just for the northwest but for all of B.C. and it will pump a lot of money into our economy,” BC Minister of Mines Bill Bennett told the Canadian Press upon announcing the mine’s environmental certificate yesterday. “These are high-paying jobs. They’re family-supporting jobs.”

KSM mine
Under Seabridge’s proposal, separate mines would be located at Kerr, Sulphurets and Mitchell mountains

Seabridge is also touting broad First Nations support. It has signed an agreement with the Nisga’a Nation, which includes profit sharing and skills training. The company also claims support from the Gitxsan First Nation.

Alaska faces potential impacts of KSM Mine

The project is also stoking serious concerns about impacts on rivers and fish, particularly in Alaska, which would be forced to deal with much of the mine’s waste issues. This from Mary Catherine Martin in the Juneau Empirewhich produced an in-depth series on the mine back in April:


It would also produce more than 2 billion tons of tailings, and one of its three open pit mines would be about as deep as the deepest open pit mine in the world today. Water treatment facilities filtering water from the mine site and into the Unuk River, which flows into Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument, may need to operate 200 years or more to prevent acid from draining into Southeast Alaska waters.

British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Office, which is reviewing Seabridge Gold’s 33,000-page mining application, says review and oversight — as well as Seabridge’s efforts to date — will ensure the mine, if permitted, is environmentally safe.

But others in Alaska and BC worry about the mine’s vast scope and effect on fish. They say should anything go wrong with this or other mines proposed in BC during or after their operation, acid mine drainage could contaminate important salmon producing rivers and Southeast Alaska’s waters, and Southeast Alaska and Yakutat’s more than 5,000 annual fishing jobs — and its fish — could be in jeopardy.


Despite these well-founded concerns in Alaska, its state regulator has lacked the resources to conduct a thorough review of its own, relying on funding from Seabridge to engage with the application, and putting a great deal of trust in the BC Environmental Assessment Office. “The state’s participation in the permitting review (for KSM) seems entirely dependent on funds from Seabridge Gold,” Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders told the Juneau Empire. “I think this is an inherently bad situation.” His organization has been asking the federal State Department to get involved in the process, in order to ensure local authorities don’t give the matter short shrift.

To claims that Alaska has little regulatory power to intervene in the process, Zimmer retorts:

[quote]The state can be proactive and demand better standards, higher bonds, other mechanisms to protect water quality…invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty (of 1909). Look to the example of Montana and the Flathead Valley.[/quote]

With provincial approval of the project, that ship may have already sailed, but that’s not to say it doesn’t face significant hurdles going forward, on both sides of the border.

BC First Nations concerned about fish impacts

Impacts on fish have been a concern for First Nations in BC as well. The Gitanyow First Nation, which fishes the Nass River, where the tailings facility would be located, has expressed grave reservations about the project. It commissioned UVic biologist Michael Price to study the potential impacts of the project on downstream salmon. In a report submitted to the provincial government by the Gitanyow Fisheries Authority, Price concluded that salmonids “will undoubtedly be subject to sub-lethal metal toxicity. In some circumstances…the effect most probable is secondary death.”

Seabridge claims it has responded to these concerns with the addition of a lined cell to protect watercourses from  “potentially acid-generating material”. Says Seabridge Vice President of Environmental Affairs Brent Murphy, “This (lined cell) is one of the main aspects of accommodation and was built into the design to address the concerns of the local Aboriginal people.”


The company has signed an agreement with the Gitanyow to monitor water quality and fish health, but will that be enough to appease their concerns in the long run? Moreover, the company has yet to reach a deal with the Tahltan First Nation – renowned for blocking other mining and gas projects in the past, particularly over water and salmon issues. Without firm support from the Tahltan and Gitanyow – especially in light of the recent Tsilhqot’in decision – the project will remian on shaky ground.

On that note, The Tsilhqot’in case and failed Prosperity Mine project offer a reminder of how provincial approval can be trumped by legal complications and federal rejection of the project. With the Harper Cabinet yet to render a decision on KSM, any celebration of the project’s approval at this stage is premature. In a letter to the Canadian Minister of the Environment last year, the Gitanyouw Hereditary Chiefs complained, “the timelines imposed by the (BC) EAO are clearly inadequate to enable meaningful consultation and ensure that proper mitigation aspects are in place.” That’s just the sort of language that can form the basis of a constitutional challenge, built on the strengthened foundation of the Tsilhqot’in decision.

That said, all signs are pointing toward a Fall approval from Cabinet, as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency  has already determined in its own review that the project would likely result in no “significant adverse environmental effects.” At that point, the strongest defence remaining against the project would likely be a First Nations-led legal challenge.

Funding not in place

Even if the company faces no serious legal challenges or regulatory hurdles, the project is not yet a given, without the significant financial backing required to make it a reality.

“Obviously, we have high expectations for this project, but until we get a partner in that’s willing to fund most of the capital and build the mine, the project is not a go yet,” Seabridge CEO Rudi Fronk told the Canadian Press.

[quote]We need that partner in place to make that construction and production decision. We’re not going to make it on our own.[/quote]

Liberal govt hubris handed Tsilhqot'in First Nation bigger legal victory

Liberal govt hubris handed Tsilhqot’in Nation bigger legal victory

Liberal govt hubris handed Tsilhqot'in First Nation bigger legal victory
The statue ‘Ivstitia’ (Justice) guards the entrance of the Supreme Court of Canada (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

The BC Liberal Government just couldn’t leave well enough alone. In choosing to appeal the Tsilhqot’in First Nation’s BC Supreme Court victory over land title and rights, the government set in motion a chain of events that could have profound consequences for its future resource development plans.

The Tsilhqot’in won a landmark legal victory affirming title and rights over 200,000 hectares of their traditional territory, west of Williams Lake, at the BC Supreme Court in 2007 (with limited rights to an even larger area). The 17-year case was the longest and arguably most important in the provincial court’s history. But at the lowest level of the courts, its ramifications remained unclear – especially as they applied to other territories.

Then, the BC government decided to challenge the ruling – initially winning a small victory in 2012 at the Court of Appeal, which undermined key aspects of the lower court’s decision. But the move would ultimately backfire.

BC government its own worst enemy

Like other seminal aboriginal rights cases such as Haida and Delgamuukw before it, in choosing to appeal the Tsilhqot’in case, the province ultimately made matters much worse for itself by entrenching the substance of the lower-court decision in the highest judicial precedent of the land, when the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its verdict this week. The SCC’s decision maintained the nation’s title and rights to 170,000 square hectares – essentially affirming the BC Supreme Court’s original ruling.

The choice of the Liberal government to roll the dice with the higher courts was likely motivated by two factors: 1) Its fixation on the proposed Prosperity Mine at Fish Lake, in Tsilhqot’in territory; and 2) Concerns over the broader implications for its resource development program throughout province if the BC court decision stood.

By proceeding with the challenge, the government failed spectacularly on both accounts.

The Fish Lake that got away

The province’s unrelenting support for Taseko Mines’ Prosperity project saw it clash with the Harper Government on several occasions. It rubber stamped the mine’s first iteration, only to watch federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice shoot it down after the panel reviewing it identified serious environmental and First Nations issues.

Then, the Liberal government stirred up a hornet’s nest when it issued exploratory permits to the company. The First Nation balked, evicting contractors from the territory. After Taseko obtained an injunction against the nation, the Tsilhqot’in got it overturned.


While all this legal wrangling over the mine was going on, the province was appealing the separate-but-related BC Supreme Court decision on the nation’s title and rights.

When the company submitted a new proposal for the mine in 2013, it too was rejected in February of this year. The company, still unwilling to take “no” for an answer, is now seeking a judicial review of the second rejection – but this week’s SCC decision surely must represent the final, final nail in the coffin for Taseko’s ill-fated mine.

What does ruling mean for Enbridge, other projects?

The SCC ruling’s impact on other contentious resource projects, like the proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines, remains to be seen. “Just because the Supreme Court of Canada has issued this claim doesn’t mean that the government is going to start giving all the land back to the aboriginal people,” says Garth Walbridge, a Métis lawyer.

[quote]But it could have a serious economic impact. The size of the boulder that Enbridge is rolling up the hill to get their pipeline built just got much bigger today, because the First Nations in that part of the country now have much much bigger say in whether or not Enbridge can go ahead.[/quote]

In pushing the case to the Supreme Court of Canada – and losing, big time – the BC Liberal government has ensured that these questions will be central to all resource development in the province going forward.

November 2011 injunction case over Prosperity Mine

Rafe Mair: Howe Sound under siege

Rafe Mair: Howe Sound under siege

Rafe Mair: Howe Sound under siege
Boaters raise the alarm over plans to re-industrialize Howe Sound (Future of Howe Sound Society)

Howe Sound is Canada’s southernmost fjord. It is a natural beauty which should be declared a world-class heritage site.

I grew up as a child on Howe Sound and well remember the men with the herring rakes, raking out the herring for salmon bait. Speaking of the salmon, if you went fishing and didn’t catch one, you must’ve forgotten to put a spoon on your line.

Over the years, Howe Sound went downhill. Industry polluted and people became careless about the environment. The fish disappeared; the whales disappeared; the Orcas disappeared; the herring and salmon seriously diminished.

Howe Sound on rebound…

A revitalization program – partly official, mostly just people taking care – has brought Howe Sound back, not quite to where it was when I was a boy, but considerably back to where it  should be. Herring came back, salmon increased, Orcas abound and humpback whales have appeared for the first time in years. The fishing industry has restarted.

…But not for long

This, unfortunately, was not to last. Industry has reappeared, big-time.

Just let me give you an example of what we now see on the horizon for Howe Sound:

1.     $60 million proposed McNab Greek creek gravel mine

2.     $1.7  billion Woodfibre liquefied natural gas (LNG) project

3.     $350 million Eagle Mountain Woodfibre gas pipeline expansion project

4.     $500 million Metro Vancouver waste incineration facility at Port Mellon

5.     We already have three private, ‘run-of-river’ projects, one approved and two in the process of approval – under the radar somehow.

6.     A multimillion dollar real estate development at Brittania Beach involving 4000 homes. God knows how many cars and of course all of the impact such large, new community will bring.

There are a number of citizen groups opposed to this development, both in Squamish and other parts of the Sea to Sky Highway and Howe Sound communities.

Map of Howe Sound with proposed industrial projects (with help of Future of Howe Sound Society)

Gravel pit threatens salmon, recreation

McNab Creek gravel pit is the center of attention. A gravel pit, for God’s sake! McNab Creek, apart from the Squamish River, is the only salmon-bearing river in Howe Sound. The gravel pit will, of course, have all of the usual effects on salmon rivers that gravel pits do. Erosion, siltation, and habitat loss will threaten multiple species of spawning wild salmon.

McNabb Creek-gravel pit location
McNab Creek – location of proposed gravel mine

The company, Burnco, out of Calgary, wishes to use McNab Creek because it is closer to its customers and cheaper to deliver gravel by boat. This will be a catastrophe and it’s safe to say that the people of the Howe Sound area are almost entirely opposed to it.

This massive assault cannot be under played. We will have lost a world class beauty spot. I haven’t even mentioned the impact of tankers out of Vancouver.

The difficulty comes in the opposition. People are law-and-order by nature and tradition. They don’t like to offend the law but obey it. John Weston, a conservative MP for the area, is fond of talking about how there is “process” in place.

Environmental review process deeply flawed

Well, folks, this “process” is about as fair as the Soviet show trials were in the 1930s. The fix is in. The process doesn’t involve the people expressing their opinion as to whether not they want the project – all they can do is offer suggestions as to how the environmental process might proceed.

The meetings are stacked – the proceedings biased and there’s always somebody from the company on the stage to “explain things”.

Companies are ordered to perform routine processes such as have public houses and opportunities where they try to explain themselves to the public. The difficulty here is the companies are not noted for telling the truth anymore than governments are. There’s no frank discussion of the downside of the project – simply a propaganda exercise complete with pretty pictures and models showing what a marvellous thing this is going to be for the people. In the case of Burnco, they fail to mention that it will entail just 16 low paid jobs.

Time for civil disobedience

There is nothing harmless about a gravel pit on a fish bearing river indeed on any river.

Unfortunately the answer to the question – if indeed there is an answer – involves civil disobedience.

One is always reluctant to suggest this for fear of being seen as promoting violence, which I’m not. I am not fomenting revolution; I am simply saying that unless the citizens of the Howe Sound area – indeed all of British Columbia – stand up to the government and refuse to accept these projects, they will go ahead.

Refusal to accept means, frankly, getting in the way of the production. Lying down in front of bulldozers and that sort of thing.

The pattern that follows is all-too familiar. The company takes the civil law and turns it into criminal law by getting  injunctions against a few of the people who protest – and when those people refuse to obey the injunctions, they are sent to jail for contempt of court and that takes the steam out of the movement.

It’s that latter phrase we must watch – taking the steam out of the movement. We must have enough people prepared to go to jail that it is the government and companies who tire of the exercise, not the public.

This takes organization and it takes people willing to make sacrifices. This means that more and more people go to jail so that the authorities tire and, in fact, perhaps even run out of jail space.

Democracy in name only

In a democracy these are strange words. The problem is is we should know we live in a democracy in name only. The public does not get the right to decide what’s going to happen to them – that’s  decided by line corporations with their handmaidens in government.

Am I being too hard on governments and corporations?

I don’t think so – all you have to do is look at the amount of money spent by the public relations people in industry has been almost duplicated by governments using public funds – so a docile public  hasn’t got a chance.

When you add to that a media that is beholden to government and industry, the public has almost no chance of being informed, except by volunteer efforts without the backup of expert opinion.

It is gone on long enough.

Time to get together

Pipelines will abound in British Columbia to make money for somebody else and destroy our heritage. We, the people, are offered nothing else but go through the process and then sit back and take it.

Surely that’s not good enough.

Surely we must finally get together and fight back.

We have valuable allies in first Nations. Unfortunately they have the right to think that they’re standing alone on this fight and everybody else is waiting for them to win it. This is simply not fair nor is a practical. We have to get behind that leadership and support it every way we can, personally and monetarily.

If we do not rise up as one and fight back against the power of hugely-funded industry and client governments, we will lose our province.

The solution is strong medicine. It will be difficult to organize. But we’ve got to do it.


P.S. Rafe’s back

I have been away – I hope you noticed. It started in the middle of December when I took a bad fall and went to hospital this was aggravated by another fall after I got home in January. To make a long story short, I spent 4 ½ months in the hospital and nearly bought it three times. Presently I am home and still quite weak. It will take some time for me to get better, I am told.

In the meantime I hope to get back to doing more writing. This is my first story for The Common Sense Canadian in nearly 6 months. I hope to vastly improve upon that record.

In the meantime I thank you very much for your patience and I am delighted to see that my friend and colleague Damien Gillis has kept things running and the magazine has grown and prospered.


Rafe Mair

Ajax Mine video featuring TRU dean unearths conflict

Ajax Mine video featuring TRU dean unearths conflict

Lindsay Langill, dean of trades and technology at Thompson Rivers University (Photo: Ajax Project Youtube).
TRU’s dean of trades and technology is featured in an Ajax mine video (Youtube: Ajax Project )

The latest chapter in the controversial Ajax mine proposal planned for the edge of Kamloops, BC was released as a sleek corporate video titled “The Conversation” by mining company, KGHM International. “The Conversation” featured Lindsay Langill, the dean of trades and technology at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), where he publicly expressed his support for the Ajax mine project.

After the video was released earlier this month, TRU received many complaints about Langill’s statement in the video.   Discussing the benefits Ajax would provide for his trades students, Langill said :

[quote]If we step back and look at what can be gained by a project such as Ajax, I think that there are many, many opportunities that open themselves up. So we can tell our students, take your training with us, stay in Kamloops, British Columbia and make a difference within the community.[/quote]

The University’s Vice-President Advancement, Christopher Seguin, responded to the complaints about Langill’s appearance in third-party corporate marketing material, telling Kamloops this Week:

[quote]Participation of the school’s dean of trades and technology in a pro-Ajax mine video does not mean Thompson Rivers University is supporting the proposed project.[/quote]

The university may want to maintain a neutral stance on the Ajax mine proposal, but Langill voluntarily allowed himself to be identified as a TRU faculty member, which reflects upon the institution.

The video highlights the job openings Ajax mine would create, its care for the surrounding environment and its neighbourhood approach to the city of Kamloops residents.

Ajax Project – an open-pit copper-gold mine at the historic Ajax-Afton mine site that finished operation in 1997 – is being developed by KGHM International, a wholly-owned subsidiary of KGHM Polska Miedź S.A., a Polish company of which the Polish government owns 80 percent of its shares.

Earlier this month, KGHM announced a new target of March, 2015 for filing its formal application. The delay comes as concern over the environmental footprint of the mine that would be located on the border of Kamloops’ city limits prompted the company to modify its design.

Although this plan hasn’t been publicly unveiled by the company, external-affairs manager Yves Lacasse said the redesign will allow the mine’s infrastructure to move south, away from the city.

After barring users from embedding the video elsewhere, the company took down the original video earlier this week. It was then reposted yesterday.

Taseko appeals Prosperity Mine rejection...again

Taseko appeals Prosperity Mine rejection…again

Taseko appeals Prosperity Mine rejection...again
The location of Taseko’s proposed New Prosperity Mine, west of Williams Lake

VANCOUVER – The company behind a proposed B.C. gold and copper mine that was rejected twice by the federal government is asking the Federal Court to quash the environment minister’s decision.

Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO) says it’s filing a second application for judicial review of the decision against the New Prosperity mine, which is proposed near Williams Lake, B.C.

Taseko’s Brian Battison says the federal environmental review process was unfair and led Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to make the wrong decision when she said no to the mine.

Court documents to be filed in Federal Court claim changes made by the government to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act two years ago are unconstitutional, because they go well beyond weighing the environmental impact of a project.

The B.C. government has approved the proposal, but Ottawa first rejected the proposed $1.5-billion mine in 2010, because the plan involved draining a lake of significance to local First Nations for use as a tailings pond.

The company says the revised plan will save the lake, but the environmental assessment found it would still cause significant adverse affects and cabinet rejected the proposal again last month.

No prosperity for Taseko-Harper govt rejects BC mine

No prosperity for Taseko: Harper govt rejects BC mine

No prosperity for Taseko-Harper govt rejects BC mine
The location of Taseko’s proposed New Prosperity Mine, west of Williams Lake

After three years, several court cases, two project designs and as many federal reviews, the Harper government has rejected Taseko Mines’ controversial Properity Mine proposal for BC.

A statement issued earlier today on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s website noted that Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq “has concluded that the New Prosperity Mine project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated.”

[quote]The Governor in Council has determined that those effects are not justified in the circumstances; therefore, the project may not proceed. [/quote]

Mine gets second life after Prentice’s rejection

The original Prosperity Mine proposal, which would have involved draining Fish Lake in Tsilhqot’in First Nation territory, west of Williams Lake, was rejected by then-Environment Minister Jim Prentice in 2010.

The company submitted a revised proposal in 2012, which First Nations leaders concluded still posed a significant threat to local watercourses, fish, and their traditional way of life.

The debate over the mine reached a fever pitch in 2013, when Taseko’s president publicly attacked Tsilhqot’in resistance to the mine.

“A recent op-ed by the President of Taseko Mines Ltd., Russ Hallbauer, argues that the overwhelming First Nations’ opposition to its controversial New Prosperity mine proposal is the result of ‘misinformed testimony by special interests’,” wrote Chief Roger William in a strongly-worded rebuttal.

[quote]This position is insulting, inaccurate and yet another example of the company’s refusal to hear the voices of our people or acknowledge the very real impacts this mine would have for our communities and our Tsilhqot’in way of life.[/quote]

Legal wrangling over mine

The issue also wound up in the courts on several occasions as the Tsilhqot’in challenged permits for exploratory drilling issued by the Clark Government prior to the conclusion of the federal review for the modified design.

Following a damning environmental assessment of the mine from the review panel late last year, Taseko even took the extraordinary step of requesting a federal judicial review into the panel’s findings.”Taseko is asking the court for a declaration that certain panel findings relating to seepage and water quality be set aside, and that the panel failed in certain respects to comply with principles of procedural fairness,” stated the company’s filing in a Vancouver court.

Door open to different mine proposal for region

In the end, the Harper government sided with the First Nation and the opinions of various scientists who presented to the review panel, including those from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada who raised serious concerns with even the new version of the project. “The Government of Canada will make decisions based on the best available scientific evidence while balancing economic and environmental considerations,” said Aglukkaq, while leaving the door open to another mine in the region:

[quote]The Government will continue to make responsible resource development a priority and invites the submission of another proposal that addresses the Government’s concerns.[/quote]

2011 video on Tsilhqot’in opposition to Prosperity Mine

Giant Mine clean-up involves freezing underground arsenic

Giant Mine clean-up involves freezing underground arsenic

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

YELLOWKNIFE – Plans to clean up what may be Canada’s worst toxic site are moving ahead with changes suggested by those who live beside Yellowknife’s Giant Mine.

Last summer, a northern environmental regulator told the federal cabinet that it wasn’t entirely happy with Ottawa’s plans for the mine, which holds millions of tonnes of arsenic-contaminated waste on the shores of Great Slave Lake.

The Mackenzie Valley Review Board agreed freezing the underground arsenic in place is probably the best solution.

But it sided with aboriginal groups, territorial politicians and the City of Yellowknife, who have strong reservations with the federal plan.

The board eventually recommended an independent watchdog be created to supervise the dangerous cleanup. And it wanted ongoing research funded to find a permanent way to deal with the former gold mine’s deadly legacy, as well as the health and environmental effects of the cleanup.

It also disagreed with federal plans to maintain the frozen arsenic in perpetuity, pointing out forever is a long time. said the board’s report last June:

[quote]The public (does) not have any confidence the (government) can be trusted to fund and actively manage the site forever as proposed.[/quote]

The board recommended a 100-year limit on the time the arsenic can be kept frozen underground. It also said the plan must be reviewed every 20 years.

All those suggestions have survived a consultation process with federal bureaucrats, and have made it into the final draft of the board’s recommendations, submitted this week.

“The board carefully weighed what it got from those parties,” said board manager Alan Ehrlich. “We believe that their underlying interests remain in the recommended measures.”

The recommendations now go before Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt.

That document is the result of consultations that began in 2008. It proposes the freezing of 237,000 tonnes of highly toxic and soluble arsenic underground, with 65 kilometres of refrigerating pipes running through cavernous subterranean storage chambers.

There are also 13.5 million tonnes of arsenic-contaminated tailings on the land above. The 95-hectare site contains many structures that are further contaminated with arsenic and other poisons, from asbestos to dioxins.

Some of the structures are in such bad shape the government was forced to apply for emergency permits to take them down last summer before toxins were released.

The latest cost estimate for the entire project is $903 million — all which will be paid by taxpayers.

US woman sues Canadian mining titan Teck over toxins, disease

US woman sues Canadian mining titan Teck over toxins, disease

US woman sues Canadian mining titan Teck over toxins, disease
1988 image of effluent from Teck’s lead and Zinc smelter in Trail, BC (photo: Joel Rogers)

by Dene Moore, Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – A Washington state woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B), claiming toxic pollutants from the company’s smelter in southeastern British Columbia are to blame for her breast cancer diagnosis and other health ailments.

Barbara Anderson is a longtime resident of Northport, Wash., a small community about 30 kilometres south of Teck’s lead and zinc smelter in Trail.

The lawsuit filed in the Eastern District Court says Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and inflammatory bowel disease in 2010. Says the claim, filed Thursday:

[quote]Teck negligently, carelessly and recklessly generated, handled, stored, treated, disposed of and failed to control and contain the metals and other toxic substances at the Trail smelter, resulting in the release of toxic substances and exposure of plaintiff and the proposed class. [/quote]

US government, aboriginal group sue for $1 Billion in clean-up costs

The smelter has been in operation under various ownership since 1896. Last year, the Vancouver-based mining giant admitted in another lawsuit brought by the Colville Confederated Tribes that effluent from the smelter polluted the Columbia River in Washington for more than a century.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually joined that lawsuit and wants Teck to pay the estimated $1-billion cost of cleaning up the contamination.

The latest lawsuit claims that between 1930 and 1995, the smelter discharged into the Columbia River at least 9 million tonnes of slag containing zinc, lead, copper, arsenic cadmium, barium, antimony, chromium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, selenium and titanium.

“This discharge was intentional and made with knowledge that the waste slag contained metals,” says the complaint.

Teck has spent more than a billion dollars on improvements to the Trail operation. Today, the company says, metals from the smelter are lower than levels that occur naturally in the river.

The company has also spent millions remediating the area in and around Trail following decades of industry, but the company said the international border complicates the issues.

Recent toxic release

Though the discharges were meant to end in 1996, the suit claims there have been numerous unintentional releases since then, most recently in March 2011, when 350,000 litres of caustic effluent went into the river.

A 2012 study by the Washington Department of Ecology found elevated levels of lead, antimony, mercury, zinc, cadmium and arsenic in soil, lakes and wetlands downriver from the plant, the lawsuit claims.

And another study, concluded this summer by the Crohn’s and Colitis Centre at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found that among 119 current and former residents of Northport, there were 17 cases of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease — a rate 10 to 15 times higher than expected in a population of that size.

The lawsuit also says the smelter released 123 tonnes of mercury into the air from 1926 to 2005, and discharged at least 180 tonnes into the river in that time.

Complaints go back 70 years

Complaints south of the border about the contamination from the Trail smelter surfaced as early as the 1940s, when farmers from Washington state sued Cominco, Teck’s predecessor, over air pollution. That case was eventually resolved in arbitration by the two federal governments and set a precedent for cross-border pollution law.

Anderson and potentially others who could form part of a class-action, if approved, “have suffered a personal injury as a result of Teck’s wrongful conduct in violation of federal common law, nuisance, and Washington negligence and strict liability laws,” the claim says.

The suit asks the court for a declaration that the Trail smelter is “a public nuisance and an abnormally dangerous activity.”

[quote]Teck releases and has released hazardous and toxic substances, which create a high risk of significant harm…Teck has known or should have known about the potential health, safety and environmental dangers these substances pose to the public.[/quote]

The company has a duty to prevent injury, it says.

The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court. Teck has yet to be served with the lawsuit and file a response with the court.

“It’s possible that this could take a long time,” Barbara Mahoney, Anderson’s lawyer, said Friday.

Taseko wants judicial review into Prosperity Mine's harsh assessment

Taseko wants judicial review into Prosperity Mine’s harsh assessment

Taseko wants judicial review into Prosperity Mine's harsh assessment
Fish Lake, near the proposed “New Prosperity” Mine in BC

VANCOUVER – Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO) has formally requested a judicial review of a critical environmental assessment for the proposed New Prosperity copper-gold mine in the B.C. Interior.

The company said Monday it has filed the request with the Federal Court in Vancouver to comply with a 30-day time limit.

Taseko has objected to parts of the assessment, saying the panel based its conclusions on faulty information — failing to account for a design feature intended to prevent seepage of contaminant material from a tailings storage facility. Said the company:

[quote]Taseko is asking the court for a declaration that certain panel findings relating to seepage and water quality be set aside, and that the panel failed in certain respects to comply with principles of procedural fairness[/quote]

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has said it is reviewing information provided by Taseko.

Last month, an agency panel released a report saying it didn’t believe Taseko’s design for the project could avoid contaminating nearby Fish Lake. The survival of the lake is at the centre of the dispute.

The assessment found the project would have “significant adverse environmental effects” on water quality, fish and fish habitat in the lake, on grizzly habitat and on First Nations traditional activities.

The final decision on allowing the mine to proceed is in the hands of federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

The review is a second attempt by the company to have the project approved.

The proposed mine has already been rejected once after an earlier assessment because the company proposed using the lake as the tailings pond.

“Taseko had no choice but to file this application in order to comply with a 30-day time limit,” Taseko president and CEO Russell Hallbauer said.

[quote]But we remain of the view that the federal government should allow the project to proceed to the next stage of detailed permit-level examination and if so the judicial review would not need to proceed.[/quote]

No Prosperity for Taseko? Report should kill mine, but company keeps digging

No Prosperity for Taseko? Report should kill mine; company digs in

No Prosperity for Taseko? Report should kill mine, but company keeps digging
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William is celebrating a scathing new report on a proposed mine in his territory

A second, damning federal report on a proposed mine west of Williams Lake, BC, amid Tsilhqot’in First Nation territory, should sound the gold and copper mine’s death knell.

The report, which follows five weeks of hearings earlier this year into an updated version of the mine proposal, states:

[quote]…the New Prosperity Project would result in several significant adverse environmental effects; the key ones being effects on water quality in Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), on fish and fish habitat in Fish Lake, on current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by certain Aboriginal groups, and on their cultural heritage.[/quote]

Strong words from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which suggest the “New” Prosperity Mine proposal did little to address the reasons its predecessor was rejected by Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice in 2010.

The Panel also foresaw a “significant adverse cumulative effect on the South Chilcotin grizzly bear population, unless necessary cumulative effects mitigation measures are effectively implemented.”

The report will now be referred to the federal Cabinet for the final decision.

Taseko vows to keep digging

While the Panel’s findings were celebrated as a “victory” by local First Nations – who came out 100% against the project throughout the recent hearings – the company downplayed the report’s impact and vowed to press on with the project.

Taseko Vice President and project spokesperson Brian Battinson told the CBC this morning, “The report, in many respects, agrees with our assessment – the risks are modest and the social and economic benefits are enormous.”

But in the scientific lexicon, “significant adverse effects” do not equate to “modest” risks. It was this sort of language in a previous report that killed the mine’s first iteration. So what Battinson and company are counting on is disproportionate weight being given to the “enormous” economic benefits they’re touting for the project.

Jobs vs. Environment

Taseko may be right, given the political climate in Ottawa and Victoria. We know that Premier Christy Clark has been pressing the Harper Government to approve the mine and the Prime Minister has made no bones about his commitment to  “extractive industries” as the cornerstone for Canada’s economy.

The decision will likely come down to whether the federal Cabinet agrees with Mr. Battinson’s risk-vs.-reward characterization – i.e. whether the impacts are as minimal and the job benefits as “enormous” as he contends.

But should it? Is it acceptable to contaminate a lake, potentially destroy fish populations, trample on the rights and quality of life of local First Nations, seriously threaten grizzly populations…so long as enough jobs are created?

Worth the risk for Harper?

Moreover, in the “risk” column lies more than just environmental impacts. Stephen Harper seems to have recognized of late that some of the key energy projects on which he’s basing his economic vision – the proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan oil pipelines to BC’s coast – have been severely undermined by his tone-deaf approach to First Nations.

In redering their verdict on the New Propsperity Mine, Cabinet will have to weigh out the broader political implications of overruling not just their own government panel’s report, but the strong objections of First Nations. The latter would further undermine Harper’s efforts to win First Nations’ approval for proposed pipeline projects in BC.

My bet is Harper will wisely cut Taseko loose.