(Reuters) - A revised mine plan for Taseko Mines’ New Prosperity copper-gold project in British Columbia still poses significant threats to the environment and nearby communities, a Canadian federal review panel said late on Thursday.
Water quality in a trout-bearing lake beside the proposed mine, fish in the lake, land and resources used for traditional purposes by certain Aboriginal groups, and their cultural heritage would be most at risk from the project, the panel said.
The grizzly bear population in south-central British Columbia will also suffer unless mitigation steps are taken, the three members of the panel said in their 323-page report.
“Fish in Fish Lake and wetland and riparian ecosystems near Fish Lake and Wasp Lake might not meet the needs of future generations,” said the panel, set up by Canada’s environment minister in 2011.
The panel is not a decision-making body but its report will play a key role in the final decision by Canada’s environment minister on whether the project should go ahead.
The Canadian government is expected to decide whether the open pit mine can go ahead within 120 days, meaning a decision is likely by the end of February.
Taseko could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ottawa in 2010 overruled British Columbia’s provincial government and blocked the development of the Taseko project because of worries over its environmental impact.
Taseko has said the revised plan addresses regulators’ concerns. But aboriginal groups and other opponents of the project say the revised proposal, if approved, would still harm Fish Lake and the rights of indigenous groups in the area.
Taseko, a mid-sized copper producer, expects the project to create close to 2,000 jobs and generate more than $1 billion in government revenue, the report said.
Taseko submitted its environmental impact statement to the panel in 2012, and public hearings on the project were held this year.
The panel made several recommendations if the project does get approved, among them urging Taseko to re-route a transmission line to avoid areas of cultural significance to an Aboriginal group.
CIBC analyst Tom Meyer estimates the development of New Prosperity could cost C$1.8 billion ($1.72 billion) and a mine could produce 44,000 tonnes of copper as well as 206,100 ounces of gold a year.
Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Clarence Fernandez