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With all eyes on Tetzan Biny (Fish Lake) and the looming threat of government approval of Taseko's proposed Prosperity Mine, the proponents of the Mt. Milligan mine in northern BC have managed to avoid public scrutiny. But even though it's stayed further below the radar, the project could turn out to be just as controversial.
Building and operating the proposed Mt. Milligan mine near Prince George would mean turning a two kilometer long, fish bearing creek into a waste dump for potentially acid-leaching rock. The move to use the King Richard Creek Valley for waste disposal would result in almost three hundred million tonnes of waste rock being dumped into the creek, eliminating all fish and marine life.
Before it was called Mt. Milligan, the area where the proposed open pit mine would be located was known to the Nak'azdli people as Shus Nadloh. It is a sacred area and an important watershed. Even so, Thomson Creek Metals, the mine proponent, makes the outrageous claim that the company can restore the area and replace fish habitat. The only thing that could make such a statement seem normal is how similar it is to Taseko's claims with the Prosperity mine.
In a move hailed by local newspapers as a "breakthrough," the McLeod Lake Indian Band struck a revenue sharing deal with the province for the Mt. Milligan mine. According to Black Press' bclocalnews.com, the McLeod Lake Band would receive as much as $38 million over the life of the copper and gold mine.
But paying off the MacLeod Lake Band doesn't guarantee that the project has a green light to proceed. The MacLeod Lake Band are Tse’khene peoples, and the band independently affiliated with Treaty 8 in 2000. The Nak'azdli band is a member of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council (CTSC), which pulled out of the B.C. Treaty Commission in 2006. Neither the Nak'azdli nor the CSTC have ceded their lands to British Columbia, or to Canada. The Halfway River First Nation and the West Moberly First Nation are also located nearby to the mine site.
"We're not opposed to the project per se, but we want to work with the company and also with the province if we can get there," Chief Fred Sam of the Nak'azdli told the Vancouver Media Co-op in a phone interview. "We have... ongoing concern about the environment, and just the way things are being handled.... We're not happy with environmental process," he said. Even though the Mt. Milligan mine is slated to destroy King Richard Creek, the company has already received provincial approval of the environmental assessment.
Though past press releases from the Nak'azdli have indicated that there's a strong resistance to the Mt. Miligan mine, Sam says his community is waiting for the BC government to provide more information about the project and the possible benefits to the Nak'azdli before making any kind of decision on whether they'll support the mine.
"Once we get something from BC, then we'll present it to our community members, and we want them to say 'yay' or 'nay'," said Sam, noting that it is possible that this vote could happen within a few months.
Complicating matters is the fact that Denver, Colorado based Thompson Creek Metals Company acquired Vancouver based Terrane Metals Corp. in July of this year. The company has already begun road building into the mine area, and plans to invest over $827 million in the mine and the mill.
According to Thompson Creek Metals, the proposed open pit mine contains 2.1 billion pounds of copper and 6.0 million ounces gold, and would provide 400 direct jobs over a period of 22 years.
The uncertainties around rights and title that exist with the Mt. Milligan mine are buried in forward looking statements on the company's website. But if the Nak'azdli people are forced to stand up and protect Shus Nadloh and King Richard Creek, the facts on the ground may suddenly become more apparent.