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Tsilhqot'in need help getting enviro experts to New Prosperity hearings

The clock is ticking for the Tsilhqot'in, a nation of six bands attempting to build a case against the New Prosperity gold and copper mine.

They are trying to raise enough money to get 14 experts to Williams Lake to testify at public hearings for the Taseko-led project, which begin today and continue to the end of August.

This is Taseko's second attempt at an environmental assessment certificate, after the project (which was then called Prosperity mine) was rejected by a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel in 2010 due to its "significant adverse environmental affects."

The project proposed draining Fish lake -- or Teztan Biny, as its known by the Tsilhqot'in -- and use it to store waste rock generated by mining activities.

In 2011, Taseko came back with another proposal for the 'New Prosperity' mine, which locates the tailings pond two kilometres from Fish Lake instead of beside it. Waste rock would be hauled to another location.

In a press release issued today, Taseko president and CEO Russell Hallbauer stated that "as a company we have done what we were asked to do."

"We have brought forward a new design that includes an additional $300 million commitment to environmental responsibility, saves Fish Lake and preserves it for future generations," stated Hallbauer.

The new proposal does not have the support of The Tsilhqot'in, whose tribal chair Joe Alphonse has said that the new project, as proposed, would merely "put the lake on temporary life support" while imposing "massive cultural and environmental impacts."

The Tsilhqot'in technical team includes experts who have conducted research on specific impacts the project could have on lake ecology, hydrology, geochemistry, salmon fisheries, human health and society, and soils, for example.

Although the CEAA provides up to $8,500 to participants in the hearing processes, the Tsilhqot'in budget for the independent expertise is in excess of $200,000. A non-profit called RAVEN Trust, which supports First Nations in protecting or restoring traditional lands and resources, is helping raise additional funds needed.

According to development director Laurie MacKenzie, the Tsilhqot'in are currently facing a shortfall of $50,000 needed in travel and accommodation costs to get the experts to the hearings, many of whom have worked for a reduced cost or pro bono on their reports. The organization is soliciting donations here.

"The research has been conducted," said MacKenzie, "we just need the money to get them there to testify. It would be horrible to lose at this point because of underfunding."

Colleen Kimmett is a senior editor at The Tyee.

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