Environment Minister Artsvik Minasian rejected on Tuesday environment protection groups’ criticism of the Armenian government’s decision to give the green light for a new gold mine currently constructed in Armenia.
A U.S.-British company, Lydian International, started building gold mining and smelting facilities at Amulsar deposit in the country’s southeastern Vayots Dzor province in August. It plans to launch ore extraction operations there by the end of 2017.
The Amulsar project is due to result in more than 1,000 new jobs and a significant increase in Armenia’s gold exports worth around $100 million last year. Lydian has attracted most of $370 million in capital investments needed for its implementation from U.S. equity firms.
Armenian environment protection groups are strongly opposed to the project, saying that it poses a serious threat to the local ecosystem. They also argue that the mountainous mining site is located less than 20 kilometers from Jermuk, the country’s most famous spa resort.
Both Lydian and the Armenian government have sought to dispel these concerns, saying that the company will use advanced technology that will minimize the environmental risks involved.
Minasian dismissed continuing attempts by the environmentalists to block gold mining at Amulsar, saying that the project received government clearance in accordance with all legal requirements, including an environmental impact assessment conducted by his ministry.
“I will be guided only by the law,” he told a news conference. “If there are legal grounds for a revision [of the assessment,] we are ready to discuss them. But it’s wrong to constantly speak about the subject without a revised package of legal grounds because as a result of that we also damage initiatives connected with environment protection programs.”
Minasian, who was appointed environment minister about three months ago, admitted that the existing government system of gauging environmental consequences of open-pit mining in Armenia is “weak.” But he said this is not sufficient grounds for halting the Amulsar operation.
“The mine is not yet being exploited, but you are demanding that the project be suspended or annulled. What are the legal grounds for doing that?” he said.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which hold minority stakes in Lydian, also scrutinized the environmental impact of the Amulsar project before agreeing to invest in it. A senior EBRD executive said in August that Lydian has pledged to meet “the strictest environmental conditions” set by the London-based lending institution.
The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan has also voiced support for the mining operation, with Ambassador Richard Mills attending a ground-breaking ceremony at Amulsar. Mills expressed confidence that Lydian will operate in Armenia “in line with international environmental and social standards.”