By Shakeh Avoyan
Minister for Trade and Economic Development Nerses Yeritsian voiced support on Friday for a multimillion-dollar mining project that, if implemented, will lead to the destruction of a rich forest in northern Armenia and is strongly opposed by environmentalists.
The Armenian Copper Program (ACP), the country’s second largest mining company, plans to invest $270 million in turning the Teghut forest rich in copper and molybdenum ores into a big mine in the next five years. The Liechtenstein-registered company is already making preparations for the start of open-pit operations in the 357-hectare area covered by some 128,000 trees.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Environment gave its mandatory approval of the project. ACP is confident that it will soon get final government clearance to start work on the Teghut deposit.
“I personally approve of that project,” Yeritsian told university students in Yerevan. “That the project must be implemented is out of question for me,” he said. “You just can’t keep revenue underground. You must extract revenue and think about how to develop that area.”
Yeritsian echoed ACP executives’ arguments that the planned development of the deposit will result in 1,400 new jobs. The private company has also pledged to build new schools and make other investments in the local infrastructure.
Environment protection groups insist that all of this would be trumped by the heavy ecological cost of the project. They say it would accelerate Armenia’s deforestation which began in the early 1990s and is increasingly threatening the national ecosystem.
Armenia’s mining and metallurgy sectors, dominated by foreign investors, have expanded rapidly in recent years on the back of soaring international prices for copper and molybdenum. Non-ferrous metals are currently the country’s number one export.
(Photolur photo: Nerses Yeritsian.)