MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Meridian completely rules out Esquel gold project

Published by MAC on 2007-02-16

Meridian completely rules out Esquel gold project

BN Americas

16th February 2007

Reno-based Meridian Gold has definitively discarded the idea of trying to move forward its Cordón de Esquel gold project in Argentina's southern Chubut province.

"The project is located in a zone where Chubut authorities have restricted open pit mining," Meridian spokesman Guillermo Mendoza told BNamericas. "It has already been dismissed by the company. None of our activities are possible there."

In July 2006, Chubut authorities prohibited mineral mining and exploration - except for alluvial gold mining - in the western part of the province for three years.

The project had already been rejected by the Esquel community in a 2003 referendum in which 81% of the residents voted against its development. Regarding a possible agreement between the company and environmentalists to develop the project, Mendoza said "there was a plebiscite and the community took a very clear and decisive position against a project that was presented in 2003 and that you can't undo that."

LAWSUIT AGAINST ACTIVISTS

The company is pursuing a lawsuit against five environmentalists accused of spreading confidential information about the project, according to the executive.

"Right now we are waiting for the verdict but the defendants asked for an extension and I don't think it was awarded. We are still waiting to see what happens," he said. The lawsuit was prompted when the activists released to the public a recording of a private meeting between several company executives in November 2003 after the referendum.

Silvia Pérez, one of the accused environmentalists, told BNamericas that they do not know who made the recording but it reached the activists and they distributed it. "At the meeting, they spoke of how to penetrate neighborhood committees, schools and how they would deal with provincial and national governments so they would sympathize with the project and turn the results of the popular vote around," she said.

Mendoza explained that nothing illegal was discussed at the meeting. "It was a meeting for managers and advisers, analyzing a very complicated situation - which the topic of Esquel was in 2003 - and trying to pose strategies to follow in the coming months."

OTHER PROJECTS

The company will now focus on exploration projects it is carrying out in Chile and Mexico, the spokesman said. Meridian recently submitted an environmental impact assessment for a US$35mn project that aims to extend to 2014 the life of its El Peñón gold-silver mine in northern Chile's Region II. The company also holds the Minera Florida gold-silver-zinc project in Chile and the Mercedes gold-silver project in Mexico's Sonora state.

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