MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Judge halts all Meridian work on Esquel

Published by MAC on 2003-02-21

Judge halts all Meridian work on Esquel

By: Tim Wood, Mineweb

21st February 2003

New York - Meridian Gold [MDG] has suffered another setback for its Esquel gold project, just a week after a victory that saw the Esquel town council veto an earlier decree banning the transport, storage and use of cyanide or similar chemicals in the district.

A Chubut judge, Claudius Petris, on Wednesday ordered all work related to Meridian's Esquel gold project halted until the company complied with environmental regulations described in provincial law 4032. Meridian has yet to announce the latest hiccough to investors.

The judgement was apparently handed down in response to a petition from a property owner adjacent to the proposed mine. Meridian has consistently maintained that Argentina's revamped mining law of 1995 trumps local and provincial regulations.

However, it now appears that the province of Chubut never took the necessary steps to accommodate the federal law, resulting in a confusing vacuum that leaves Meridian on the bleeding edge.

It is notable that other mines in Chubut are presently operating free of legal hindrance, which appears to be a function only of Esquel's exceptional beauty which was enough to persuade actor-activist Robert Redford to buy a ranch in the area.

Statements made to the Buenos Aires Herald by Argentinean Mining Under-Secretary, Jorge Mayoral, confirm federal support for Meridian. Mayoral criticized Chubut officials and indicated that his ministry is investigating the ruling as well as assembling a panel that will try to calm the situation.

Meridian has complained previously about provincial and local officials muscling in on federal responsibilities. The Herald quotes Meridian's local PR manager, Natalia Moscardi, saying that Chubut's Mining Bureau was supposed to oversee the entire project, but that an "environmental department" has "been given control of the production side at the mine.

"This is not contemplated in the national mining law, of which Chubut is a signatory, nor was it the situation when Meridian Gold decided to go ahead with the project," the Herald reported Moscardi saying.

Meanwhile, Green activists who have been running aggressive and often unethical interference on the project promise that the overturned cyanide ban will be reimposed once lawyers finish crafting a new, supposedly watertight challenge. The activists are also seeking to disrupt or postpone the public hearing on the project, scheduled for 29 March. It has been postponed several times before and has pushed back the intended startup date.

Meridian recently conducted a mass mailing to area residents extolling the benefits of a mine, signed by Meridian's vice president of development, Gonzalo Tuffino, but stepped on toes by using an old database with the names of deceased residents.

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