Glitter of gold, jitters over cyanide divide Romanians on Gabriel-owned project – Alison Mutler (Globe and Mail – August 22, 2011)

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ROSIA MONTANA, ROMANIA — This is fairy tale land and there’s even a pot of gold buried beneath it. But not everyone’s happy.

With the precious metal at an all-time high, a Canadian company is eager to start blasting out mountains and demolishing parts of the ancient Romanian town of Rosia Montana to build an open-cast mine where 300 tons of gold and 1,600 tons of silver are buried.

The plan, which would use cyanide in the extraction process, faces fierce opposition from ecologists and many locals who want to preserve the region’s unique heritage.

Transylvania is a land of majestic mountains, never-ending forests, and meadows dotted with cones of hay, horse-drawn carts and medieval churches – scenes straight out of Grimms’ fairy tales.

Supporters of this rural paradise are battling to preserve an ancient way of life, even as Romania’s economy lingers in the doldrums.

Rosia Montana Gold Corp. (RMGC), which is 81-per-cent owned by Gabriel Resources Ltd., says it will be careful to preserve the environment, and is committed to paying villagers compensation and investing in the restoration of historical monuments.

“The worst thing that could happen would be that one of the biggest opportunities that would give [locals] a chance for the future would not go ahead,” said Catalin Hosu, RMGC’s regional communications manager.

It says it has invested $400-million (U.S.) in the mine, in which the Romanian state has a 19-per-cent stake. The operation is estimated to create more than 2,000 jobs while the mine is built and keep about 150 people employed once it is running.

The town of about 4,000 has about 80-per-cent unemployment, although some residents, technically jobless, live off proceeds from small farms, while many are retirees.

Indrei Ratiu, co-founder of Pro-Patrimonium, Romania’s national heritage society, says juggling past and future is the key to Transylvania’s prosperity. “You have to get the balance right between conservation and development,” he says in an interview from Petresti village. But he says the gold mine project goes too far. Like others he believes less invasive mining methods combined with tourism is the best way forward.
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