(Sept. 29, 2005) Barrick Gold Corporation’s attempt to buy citizen support for the development of its US$1.5 billion Pascua Lama gold mine has not satisfied government officials in charge of reviewing environmental legislation. Paulina Saball, director of the Region III National Environmental Commission is still concerned about the proposed mine project even though Barrick has agreed to pay US$60 million for contamination and disruption of the Huasca River watershed.
The Company is proposing to relocate three glaciers from the proposed open-pit mining site to Guanaco, an area with similar surface characteristics and elevation located several kilometers to the south. Farmers from the Junta de Vigilancia, the group of local farmers that signed the agreement with Barrick, were concerned that the relocation of the glaciers would negatively impact their land that relies on the Huasca River for irrigation.
The protocol agreement between Barrick and the Junta was signed on June 30 by eight of the valley’s nine farmers. It agreed to provide US$3 million every year for 20 years to mitigate any damage to the farms as a result of mining operations. (ST, July 22).
The group originally proposed that Barrick agree to compensate them for the full value of their farms, estimated at US3 billion, in the event of contamination. The combined worth of the Junta is considerably higher than the US$60 million Barrick agreed to. However, farmers expressed concerns that if they refused the offer, the project would begin without their support, leaving them to deal with the contamination on their own.
Even though the company has agreed to compensate the farmers, Saball raised several questions left unanswered by Barrick. As Chile’s constitution grants every citizen the right to live in a clean environment free of pollution, she questioned whether one can actually give up their constitutional rights by signing a private agreement.
“Who is the community? she asked, “Is it only the farmers?”
Her commission will take up the issue on October 14 when they will review Barrick’s response to these and several other questions still pending.
“The (Barrick-Junta) agreement reached between the two groups will not influence our decision in any way to approve the environmental impact study done by Barrick.” said Saball, “The fact that they have an agreement between private parties is not a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean anything to us.”
Citizens have until Sept. 30 to register their concerns with the government.
SOURCE: EL MERCURIO, EL MOSTRADOR