By Astghik Bedevian
A leading Armenian mining company said on Tuesday that it is pressing ahead with the development of a massive copper and molybdenum deposit in the country’s north despite strong resistance from local environmentalists.
Gagik Arzumanian, chief executive of the Armenian Copper Program (ACP), was confident that the Liechtenstein-registered company will soon get final government clearance to start work on the Teghut deposit. He said it is already making preparations for open-pit operations in the wooded area estimated to contain 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum.
“We know of no circumstances that can call into question the project’s implementation,” Arzumanian told RFE/RL.
Buoyed by record-high international prices for non-ferrous metals, ACP plans to spend $270 million on turning the wooded area located in the northern Lori region into a huge mine. It intends to extract more than 30,000 tons of copper and molybdenum ores there per annum starting from 2012.
The project, if implemented, will lead to the destruction of 357 hectares of rich forest, including 128,000 trees. Hence, the outcry it has sparked among Armenian environment protection groups. They say that the Teghut mine would wreak further havoc on Armenia’s forest that have already shrunk dramatically since the 1990s.
Hakob Sanasarian of the Armenian Union of Greens warned on Tuesday that crop-growing and other agricultural activity in the area close to Georgia would also be hit hard. “Even in nearby forests, which are not supposed to be chopped down, it will be dangerous to collect fruits and berries,” he said.
ACP admits the heavy environmental cost of its plans but says it will be more than offset by 1,400 new jobs which it has pledged to create in the economically depressed area. The company has also pledged to build new schools and make other investments in the local infrastructure.
The Armenian government clearly accepts ACP’s arguments, with the Ministry of Environment formally giving its mandatory go-ahead to the Teghut project earlier this year.
“It is beneficial for the state because new jobs will be created, more taxes will be paid to the state budget, and local infrastructure will be upgraded,” said Gagik Haroyan, a senior official at the ministry’s Geological Agency. “If there is a deposit of natural resources, it must be exploited.”
Non-ferrous metals and ores are currently Armenia’s main export products. The local mining sector is dominated by ACP and the German-owned Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Plant operating in the southeastern Syunik region.