An open-pit gold mining operation planned near the Northern Zone town of Las Crucitas has been set back – if not terminated – by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), which effectively annulled the mining company’s concession last week.
The court ruled Dec. 5 to uphold a 2004 ruling that found the mining concession awarded to the company Industrias Infinito in 2001 is invalid because the mining company had not yet submitted environmental-impact studies for the project when it received the concession. The Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) did not approve the studies until 2005 (TT, Sept. 2, 2005).
Industrias Infinito, the Costa Rican division of the Canadian-based international mining company Vannessa Ventures, has argued that the environmental-impact studies were not required to receive the mining concession when they applied. Sala IV justices rejected this argument, however.
According to company spokesman Andrés Soto, when Industrias Infinito applied for its concession, the law said a company must first have a concession before submitting an environmental-impact study for approval. A decree issued in 2001, after Infinito had applied for the concession, reversed the order of the two permits but excluded companies that were already in the permit process.
“Industrias Infinito has done nothing else but what the law says,” Soto said. He accused the Costa Rican government of “changing the rules of the game” and warned that the ruling will discourage foreign investment.
The company has since filed a request for the Sala IV to review its ruling, alleging errors in the judges’ reasoning, Soto said.
The project, which has been on hold for years, is awaiting the green light to begin construction, which would take a year and a half, he added.
While the company has criticized the ruling, area environmentalists have celebrated it, according to a statement from the Opposition Front against Mining in the Northern Zone. The group says mining in the area violates international treaties such as the Central American Biodiversity Treaty. The mining operation has long been the target of protests, with environmentalists claiming the mine would damage area ecosystems.
Las Crucitas is also one of two mines that were exempted from a 2002 decree by President Abel Pacheco placing a moratorium on all open-pit mining operations.