Company asks Federal Court to quash minister’s decision on rejected BC gold mine

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VANCOUVER – The British Columbia company behind a proposed $1.5-billion gold and copper mine twice rejected by the federal government is asking the Federal Court to quash the decision.

Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO) filed a second application on Wednesday for judicial review of cabinet’s latest decision rejecting the New Prosperity mine. The company claims, in part, that sections of the newly revised Canadian Environmental Assessment Act are unconstitutional.

“The federal review panel failed in their duty to deliver a fair process, and the consequence of their failure resulted in the federal minister of environment making the wrong decision,” Brian Battison, vice-president of corporate affairs, said in an interview.

“We seek to rectify both the failed process and the decision that stemmed from it in a court of law. That’s the only reasonable option open to us at this time.”

Taseko filed an earlier application for judicial review of the report by a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel, which found the project would have significant adverse environmental effects.

The latest application seeks a judicial review of the federal government’s final decision on the proposal.

Taseko is asking the court to quash the decision of the minister and the cabinet, and refer it back to cabinet for reconsideration.

The application says the terms of reference for the review changed when the revised Canadian Environmental Assessment Act came into effect in 2012.

Those changes are unconstitutional, the company claims, because they go well beyond weighing the environmental impact of a project.

The court application also says Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq met with Chief Roger William of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation last October, after the panel hearings had closed and prior to the decision. William and other members of the Tsilhqot’in government then met with five deputy ministers.

“The New Prosperity project was discussed at the meetings … but Taseko was not advised of the submissions or information presented by or on behalf of the (Tsilhqot’in) in those meetings and was given no opportunity to respond to those submissions or information,” Taseko says in its court application.

Taseko’s application notes the company has spent in excess of $130 million developing the project to date.

Chief Joe Alphonse of the Tsilhqot’in government called the application a “desperate attempt by a desperate company.”

“This is the most pro-industry government we’ve ever had in Canada, and the’ve turned this down twice now,” Alphonse said in an interview.

“They’re wasting everybody’s time dealing with this issue.”

As for the meeting with Aglukkaq, the Tsilhqot’in said B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett went to Ottawa several times and met with his federal colleagues to urge them to approve the mine.

The proposed mine site, located 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, B.C., is the tenth-largest undeveloped gold-copper deposit in the world. Taseko says the project would create 750 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs in an area where the forestry industry has been devastated by the pine beetle epidemic.

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

The company submitted a revised plan that it said would preserve the lake, but the environmental assessment found it would still cause significant adverse affects.

The decision caused a rift in the Conservative caucus, with two area Tory MPs speaking out against the cabinet decision.

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