Armenian Environmentalists Take Case to Court to Protect Teghut Forest

06_07-teghut-1

By Arman Gharibyan
From Hetq.am

YEREVAN (Hetq)–On July 6, 2009, the Yerevan Administrative Court agreed to review a lawsuit presented by a number of civic and environmental groups in defense of the Teghut Forest, a densely wooded area located in the southern reaches of Tavush Marz under threat of being destroyed by a mining operation.

The plaintiffs are the Transparency International Anti-corruption Center, the Vanadzor Office of the Helsinki Civic Assembly and EGODAR, all of which argue that the administrative acts agreed to by the Armenian government regarding the exploitation of the mine at Teghut violate a number of laws.

Those laws, specifically are: Articles 1, 10, 33.2 and Part 4 of Article 6 of the Armenian Constitution; several sections of the Statutes regarding land, water and resources; Article 17 of the Law Regarding Flora; and Article 18 of the Law Regarding Fauna.

The lawsuit also claims that a number of international treaties and other laws have been violated.

How the threat started

Copper and molybdenum deposits were first discovered at Teghut back in 1976. The site is 4 kilometers from the village of Teghut and 6 from the village of Shnogh. Mine deposits are estimated at 453.8 million tons of ore. In 2001, the Armenian government issued a 25-year operating license to the Armenian Copper Program (ACP) for Teghut, and in April, 2008, ACP began the felling of trees on property allocated to it according to the licensing agreement.

Of the 670 hectares necessary for production facility construction and mine operation, 510 hectares are forested. The government, however, has only given permission to clear away 357 hectares (882 acres).

At the request of the ACP, the Mining and Metallurgy Institute carried out an environmental impact study for the site. The Armenian Ministry of Nature Protection evaluated the assessment as positive and thus the deforestation process began in earnest at Teghut.

The threat to the flora of Teghut

In their 66-page lawsuit, the Teghut defense coalition seriously questions the results of the environmental impact study, the “operational plan”, and the arguments cited by the Armenian Ministry of Nature Protection in its positive assessment of the study. In particular, the ministry assessment fails to note the presence of flora included in the Armenian Red Book of Endangered Species that exist on the lands to be commercially exploited. At the request of Transparency International, Pavel Ghambaryan, an expert in botany, examined the documentation regarding the fauna at the Teghut mine site.

His research showed that three species of trees (Juniperus foetidissima, Diospiros lotus, Juglans regia) and three plant species (Bupleurum Kozopolyanskyi, Galanthus transcaucasicus, Corydalis marshalliana) listed in the Armenian Red Book, grow on lands within the administrative boundaries of the Teghut and Shnogh rural communities, and according to Mr. Ghambaryan, exploitation of the mine will certainly lead to the numerical reduction of these species and habitat degradation.

Threats to the fauna of Teghut

Teghut and the surrounding area are home to several animal species listed in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red Book. There are also 7 bird, 7 mammal and 2 reptile species listed in the Armenian Red Book which make Teghut their home. In its positive assessment of the EIS, the ministry also failed to note that many species of animals registered in the ICUN Red Book and the Red Book of Armenia live on the lands in question

In his review of the documentation regarding the fauna of the Teghut mine site, biologist Martin Adamyan notes that, “Operation of the mine will inexorably lead to a reduction in the number of animal species that inhabit the area and habitat degradation.

According to the plaintiffs, a 1992 analytical guide was used to gauge the economic damage resulting from negative impacts on the environment, even though the Armenian government formulated a new guide in 2005 to asses such damage to the land, atmosphere and water resources. The plaintiffs claim that the statistics presented in the EIS and the “Operational Plan” contradicts one another. As a result, economic damage figures using the two sets of statistics widely differ, sometimes by a factor of two. The plaintiffs back up their arguments in detail in their 66 page lawsuit.

The suit claims that over the course of the mine’s operating life, damage to atmosphere will amount to 1.149 billion drams and damage to the earth will reach 2.586 billion drams.

The plaintiffs have also estimated damage to water resources during the operating life of the mine at 165.5 million drams. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs ask that the Administrative Court declare that the decision adopted by the government regarding the Teghut mine to be null and void. They also request that the “Ore Extraction Licensing Agreement” between the ACP and the Ministries of Trade and Economic Development and Nature protection be nullified.

The main demand of the plaintiffs is to compel the government to put a halt to the ACP’s plan designed to operate the Teghut mine.

Defendants in the case are the Armenian government, the Ministry of Nature Protection and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. The Armenian Copper Program, CJSC, is registered as a third-party in the suit. Hayk Aloumyan will serve as the attorney for the plaintiffs.

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