DESPITE environmentalists’ disapproval, mining companies struck gold in 2005 after emerging victorious, or at least unharmed, from trying situations they had to face this year.
Metales Procesados M.R.W., S.A., the company that owns the Bellavista open-pit gold mine in Miramar, near the Pacific port city of Puntarenas, engaged in a verbal tug-of-war in June with an environmental association that accused the mine of an alleged cyanide spill that, according to the group, injured several employees.
Although the Miramar-based Gulf of Nicoya Ecologist Communities Association (CEUS del Golfo) claimed cyanide – a toxic chemical used to extract gold from ore – seeped from a fissure in the pipelines, mine officials denied a spill occurred.
Environmentalists were dejected after the July elections for two community representatives from the Montes de Oro canton, where the mine is located, for the Bellavista Mine Monitoring Commission.
The incumbent representatives, who showed a pro-mine attitude, were reelected for the posts.
Another open-pit gold mine, Las Crucitas, located near the border with Nicaragua, made a $276 million claim against the state of Costa Rica for a government delay of more than three years
that prevented them from beginning to
extract gold from the site.
Vanessa Ventures, the Canadian mining company that operates Las Crucitas, sought international arbitration alleging that the Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry (SETENA) failed to review the environmental impact study the mine submitted in a timely manner.
However, in September SETENA approved the study – a move that has motivated the company to consider dropping the international arbitration case, according to Erich Raugut, president of Industrias Infinito, the Costa Rican subsidiary of Vanessa Ventures, in a phone interview with The Tico Times from Canada.
Last week, the mine obtained SETENA’s environmental viability, the only major remaining study. Now the mine awaits only minor permits, such as one from the Public Health Ministry, to begin construction of the mining complex, which could happen in June or August next year, according to Andrés Soto, spokesman for Industrias Infinito.
Bellavista and Las Crucitas are the only open-pit gold mines in the country declared exempt from a moratorium on open-pit mining signed by President Abel Pacheco in 2002.