Armenia’s second largest copper and molybdenum mine is facing an uncertain future eight months after being shut down because of environmental risks.
Vallex Group, a private mining company, sent 1,200 or so employees working at the Teghut deposit on indefinite leave in early January, citing the need for “planned prophylactic repairs.” Vallex claimed that it needs time to commission feasibility studies on its plans to significantly boost production there.
Environment protection activists said, however, that the shutdown is the result of growing toxic leaks from the mine contaminating a nearby river. For their part, government officials said that the company’s waste disposal facilities need major upgrades.
In April, Vallex rehired around 300 of the laid-off employees to work at other metal mines belonging to it. The remaining 800 workers, most of them residents of nearby villages, are still jobless.
One of them, Haykasar Marukian, said on Wednesday that the Vallex management has failed to make good on its promises. “We were told that the company is going to resume work, and so people took loans [from banks] to improve their living conditions,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “They now have trouble repaying those loans.”
According to Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, in order to restart mining operations at Teghut Vallex needs substantial investments to refurbish its tailings dump which poses a threat to the environment. The Liechtenstein-registered company is now trying to secure a fresh loan from the Russian bank VTB for that purpose, he said.
“We [the government] will do everything so that those negotiations are completed and a solution is found very soon,” Avinian told reporters during a visit to the northern Lori province encompassing Teghut.
“We have no solution at the moment,” he said. “Either Vallex will again exploit the Teghut mine or a new company will take over.”
VTB had already provided the bulk of $380 million which Vallex claims to have spent on building mining and ore-processing facilities at Teghut.
Environmentalists opposed open-pit mining there even before it began in 2014. They argued, among other things, that the multimillion-dollar project will lead to the destruction of hundreds of hectares of rich forest.
Vallex pledged to plant a new and bigger forest in adjacent areas. It also promised to create 1,300 jobs, build new schools and upgrade other infrastructure in local communities.