The mayor and other residents of a village in the northern Lori province vehemently objected on Thursday to plans by a leading Armenian mining company to explore and possibly develop metal deposits close to their community.
The company, Vallex Group, needs a government permission to determine, through geological drilling, whether there are commercially viable volumes of copper, molybdenum and other non-ferrous metals in the mountainous area covered by forests. The licensing process also mandates the conduct of public discussions involving residents of the nearest local community, Tsaghkashat, local government officials and environment protection groups.
“It would be naïve to think that our objective is only to collect information,” a senior Valex Group executive, Sahak Karapetian, said during one such discussion held in the nearby town of Lori. “If, God willing, we manage to discover a big deposit, Armenia should only be happy with that.
The Tsaghkashat mayor, Hrach Paranian, members of the village council and other villagers attending the heated discussion strongly disagreed. They said open-pit mining would only destroy their livelihoods.
“We have a stable source of income,” said Paranian. “We raise cattle, grow fruits, collect berries and mushrooms and make use of the forest all year round. We have no problem with jobs.”
Some Tsaghkashat farmers claimed that Vallex Group wants to look for uranium. They said that geologists found uranium deposits near the village in Soviet times.
Vallex representatives denied any interest in the radioactive metal, however. One of them, Artem Sargsian, said the company will abandon its plans if most Tsaghkashat residents remain adamant in opposing any mining in the area.
Vallex Group began late last year large-scale mining operations in Lori’s Teghut forest, just a few dozen kilometers from Tsaghkashat, after years of resistance from some residents of nearby villages and especially environment protection groups based in Yerevan. The $380 million project is expected to lead to the destruction of 357 hectares of rich forest containing 128,000 trees.
The company is supposed to offset this damage by planting twice as many trees in adjacent areas. It has denied environmentalists’ claims that ore crushing and enrichment will pollute a local river and underground waters.
Vallex also claims to have created about 1,300 new jobs at Teghut and has pledged to build new schools and upgrade local infrastructure.