YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Dismissing strong objections from environmentalists, the government gave on Thursday the final go-ahead for the development of a massive copper and molybdenum field in northern Armenia, which will lead to the destruction of 357 hectares of rich forest.
The Teghut deposit close to the Georgian border is estimated to contain 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum. The Armenian Copper Program, a large mining enterprise that extracts and smelts ore from other parts of the northern Lori region, plans to spend more than $200 million on turning the deposit into a huge mine. The Liechtenstein-based company secured the Armenian Environment Ministry’s mandatory approval of the project earlier this year.
The ministry gave the clearance despite strong resistance from Armenian environment protection groups. The latter argue that the resulting destruction of 128,000 trees would wreak further havoc on Armenia’s forests that have already shrunk dramatically since the early 1990s.
ACP admits the heavy environmental cost of its plans but says it will be more than offset by 1,400 new jobs, which it has pledged to create in the unemployment-stricken depressed area. The company has also pledged to build new schools and make other investmen’s in the local infrastructure.
The government accepted these argumen’s, formally approving land allocations needed for the start of open-pit operations at Teghut. ACP already began preparations for the operations early this summer.
Minister of Trade and Economic Development Nerses Yeritsian said after a weekly cabinet meeting that the government also took into consideration the opinion of local governmen’s who are in favor of the project. "We have held detailed discussions with them and unanimously arrived at the conclusion that the benefits and revenues which the country will receive from those investmen’s will substantially outweigh the environmental and other costs," Yeritsian told reporters.
Yeritsian said that estimates of the resulting environmental damage are grossly exaggerated and are "not the result of serious scientific analysis." He also argued that ACP undertook to finance the planting of tens of thousands of new trees elsewhere in Lori.
Non-ferrous metals and ores are currently Armenia’s main export products. The local mining sector is dominated by ACP and the German-owned Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Plant operating in the southeastern Syunik region.