Environmental Lawyer, Expert Nazeli Vardanyan, www.aarhus.am
Environmental Lawyer, Expert Nazeli Vardanyan, www.aarhus.am
On 07.04.2016 the official website of Nature Protection Ministry published the amended Amulsar gold quartzite mining project, Mine Reclamation, Closure and Rehabilitation Plan, ESIA, Technological Regulation on Ore Heap Leaching and Gold Extraction Processes. In 2016 “Geoteam” CJSC also published a number of documents on Amulsar gold-bearing quartzite mine, including the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).
It’s noteworthy that the arguments presented by the experts and society during the public hearings and discussions held in the past, according to which the implementation of Amulsar mining will violate the Armenian legislation and a number of international standards, which were denied by “Geoteam” CJSC, are now presented in their published documents.
1. During the previous discussions the representatives of “Geoteam” Company denied that the mine is located next to rural residential areas and claimed it won’t have any adversary impact on the environment and social state of the residents in these villages. Now the ESIA says, “The mine site is in a rural, upland area, with much of the footprint located on meadowland used for animal grazing, except for the HLF and part of the conveyor which are located at lower elevation on private- and community-owned land near to the villages of Gndevaz and Saravan. Some 274 plots of private land totalling 152 ha, mostly belonging to Gndevaz residents, are to be acquired by the Project and some cultivated land will be lost resulting in economic displacement.”
During numerous discussions the representatives of “Geoteam” Company substantiated that Jermuk Town is located far from the mine and won’t be exposed to any effect. Now all the documents mention Jermuk Town and it’s considered as project-affected, though no studies have been carried on the mine impact on the springs of mineral water, pureness of air and water in Jermuk. In this case, if Jermuk is a project-affected community and it wasn’t recognized as such during previous expertises and no public hearings were held, consequently all expert opinions are illegal, as they were carried out with the violation of the requirements of Armenian legislation and the Aarhus Convention.
It’s prohibited to carry out explosions in the sanitary preservation zones of mineral water springs in Jermuk and to initiate any business activities polluting the environment. If in the past the representatives of “Geoteam” Company denied that explosions might have impact on surrounding settlements, on 05.07.2016 they visited the houses of Gndevaz community residents and recorded the existing cracks and damage so as to make it clear which household will be compensated in case of damage. If the shakes are going to be so strong that can cause damage to houses, then these shakes can cause loss or damage of mineral water springs in this active tectonic zone, which will cause irreversible damage to the Republic of Armenia.
Underground water basin can also inflict negative impact, which will also have negative impact on Jermuk mineral water springs and the catchment basin of Lake Sevan. “Geoteam” company says, “The nitrogen compounds used in blasting activities have the potential to contaminate water in the open pits. It is likely that these compounds will infiltrate into the groundwater… An increase in nitrate concentrations is likely to occur for a period following mine operation in high-elevation, perennial, groundwater-fed springs in close proximity to the mine pits.” At the same time, it says, “Acid rock drainage seeping into the ground from the pit could also impact groundwater quality. This could affect springs near to the pits, and groundwater which supports annual flow in rivers.”
Besides, it will also affect water supply in Jermuk Town: as the ESIA says, “Jermuk's water is sourced from four groups of springs, one of which, the Madikenc group, is within the Project area.” Then it says, “Computer modelling shows that these changes in groundwater flows may cause some springs high on Amulsar to dry up during the late summer or winter months.” That is, Jermuk Town will lose its drinking water springs, as they will be either polluted or get dry because of mining.
Mining in a distance of 7 km from Jermuk Town contradicts a number of norms of the Armenian legislation, which should be taken into consideration by the experts of nature protection and issued a negative opinion. Thus, Article 21 of RA Land Code says, “2. According to the legislation, sanitary (Highland sanitary) protection belts will be defined for implementing the requirements of the sanitary regulation and the environmental protection and preventing the diseases of the population, within the areas of medical resorts and medical facilities.”
In case of Amulsar mining we can lose rare mineral water springs in Jermuk (explosions, high seismic risks, result of contamination), pollute and make the nature of Jermuk not fir for resort, rest and tourism because of the pollution and high radiation of air, water and land. As a result, the number of Jermuk visitors and tourists won’t increase, as the project says, but it will decrease. Healthcare, rest, tourism and mining are not compatible. For this very reason, the state shall decide which sector is given a priority. Amulsar mining will result in serious social, demographic, healthcare, public order and other problems.
3. “Geoteam” Company has neglected and continues neglecting the negative impact on Lake Sevan. If in the past they claimed there is no impact on Lake Sevan, now they acknowledge the impact on Lake Sevan, but seek to solve it by transferring HLF. Nevertheless, mining, ore crushing and barren rock piling works will be carried out in the drainage basin of Lake Sevan, which is prohibited by the Armenian Legislation.
Amulsar mine is located in the drainage basin of Lake Sevan and its development will result in the pollution of groundwater and surface water, which flow into Kechout and Spandaryan reservoirs, then into Lake Sevan and will damage Lake Sevan ecosystem.
Taking into account that Amulsar is an open mine, which contains uranium and selenium, besides gold, there is concentration of heavy metals, wide-scale explosions will be carried out and gold extraction will be carried out with heap leaching (which is baned in a civilized country), one can only imagine the extent of toxicity of the substances and heavy metals flowing into Arpa and Vorotan Rivers, Kechout and Spandaryan reservoirs and then into Lake Sevan.
It turns out that so far “Geoteam” Company has submitted non-reliable information to the expertise body, while the experts have neglected the fact of impact on Lake Sevan ignoring the arguments submitted by the society and issued an illegitimate positive opinion.
It’s obvious that Amulsar mining violated a number of provisions of RA Water Code and RA Law “On Lake Sevan”, which will cause essential damage to Lake Sevan and its drainage basin endangering the preservation of both Jermuk mineral waters and the drainage basin of Lake Sevan.
4. During all previous discussions the representatives of “Geoteam” Company denied the arguments that the mine area contains red-listed plant and animal species. Nevertheless, the ESIA for 2016 says, “Despite the commitment to the set-aside, the Project, and particularly the open pits, will result in the loss of Potentilla porphyrantha plants,” which is red-listed in Armenia, while worldwide it’s classified as “Critically Endangered species”. Then it says, “Under permit from the Government of Armenia, plants from within the proposed open-pits footprint have already been collected and transported to a purpose-constructed research facility at Sevan Botanic Garden.” This activity has violated Article 17 of RA Law “On Flora”. Then the document says, “The internationally recognised Gorayk and Jermuk Important Bird Areas (IBA) border the Project area to the southeast and north-west, respectively. IBAs are regions designated by Birdlife International as being important habitat for the conservation of birds.”
“Several other species that are listed in the Armenian Red Book have been found in the Project area, including two species of viper, two species of beetle, a butterfly species, at least 14 species of bird and one mammal species.” Mentioning several red-listed animals, nevertheless, not all species are listed. For example, brown bear is only mentioned as a mammal, whereas the report by “Animal World” LLC for 2006-2012 says Jermuk area is inhabited with the following red-listed species – brown bear, bezoar goat, Armenian moufflon and leopard. However, the company hasn’t carried out any studies except for the bear. Article 18 of RA Law “On Fauna” says, “Any activity, which will result in the reduction of red-listed species and deterioration of their habitats in Armenia shall be forbidden.”
It can be concluded that that the first expert opinion is not legitimate, as the company hadn’t submitted any reliable data on the flora and fauna and they were not assessed, while the newly submitted documents are also incomplete.
The provision of RA Code on Subsoil has also been violated: particularly Article 26 (1(3)) says, “1. Using of separate subsoil allotment shall be prohibited in a manner prescribed in the Laws of Republic of Armenia from the perspective of ensuring national security, protection of human lives and health, cultural values or nature and environment, if land plot on the claimed subsoil allotment accommodates plants or animal settlements registered in the Red Book of the Republic of Armenia, or if is on migration routes of animals.” The norm is imperative and doesn’t allow issuing any positive opinion and mine will be developed in this area.
5. The representatives of “Geoteam” Company didn’t acknowledge the location of any cemeteries or cultural and historical sites in the mine area, but now they reduce their significance. The document says, “Based on current knowledge, the Project activities will substantially impact 81 archaeological sites, although none of the known artefacts are considered by either national or international cultural heritage experts to be of high importance to archaeology.” Based on what and who authorized the company to value the significance of 81 archaeological sites is unclear. Meanwhile the letter by RA Research Center for Cultural and Historical Heritage says, “Settlements and cemeteries have been detected, which have been submitted to Culture Ministry to give them a status of a monument.” Article 23 of RA Land Code says, “Lands occupied by protected structures of historical and cultural values, memorial parks, memorial complexes, paleontological and architectural monuments; as well as religious constructions, cultural and historical preserves, historical, cultural and paleontological objects, military and civil cemeteries, mausoleums and other cultural and historical values are considered the historical and cultural lands.”
Provision of land areas occupied with historical and cultural monuments for mining also violates Article 11 of RA Constitution.
In case of so many bans, it’s unclear how Nature Protection Ministry could have issued a positive opinion.
5. RA Law “On Environmental Impact Assessment and Expertise” has also been violated. Particularly, Jermuk Town hasn’t been initially recognized as a project-impacted community and no public hearings were held there, as the legislation says. Now Jermuk Town is recognized as a project-affected community, but no hearings were held there thus not taking into consideration the opinion of the largest community located next to the mine.
Besides, the opinions of all interested ministries and departments haven’t been taken into consideration. Thus, for example, the opinion of RA Health Ministry on the mine is missing, which is a must for expertise. The positive opinion has been issued without taking into consideration the impact on human health and hazard resulting from mining.
The opinion of RA Culture Ministry has not been taken into consideration neglecting the existing 81 historical monuments in the area. The expertise body hasn’t taken into consideration the negative opinion of project-affected communities – Gndevaz and Saravan, as well as those of Jermuk residents.
6. On 25 September 2014 the Armenian Government adopted its resolution 1059-A “On approving strategy, conservation and use of strictly preserved areas of nature in the Republic of Armenia, state programme and measures”, which says “Jermuk” National Park shall be established within 2017-2020 by RA Nature Protection Ministry with the consent of NAS RA and WWF Armenia with the financial means of the state budget and other sources not permitted by law. Mining and establishment of Jermuk National Park and tourism development are incompatible programs.
12:29 November 03, 2016