Romanian mining town suffers from its riches – by Luiza Ilie (National Post/Reuters – May 31, 2012)

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ROSIA MONTANA, Romania — Nature has carved a humbling landscape of deep river valleys and reddish peaks in a corner of the Carpathian mountains in western Romania.
Rosia Montana town, made up of 16 villages that dot the slopes along the river Rosia, has hundred-year-old churches and houses, cemeteries and ancient Roman mine galleries.
It also has gold. But for many who live here, that is more of a bane than anything else. Canada’s Gabriel Resources wants to build Europe’s largest open cast gold mine in Rosia Montana, a 15-year quest that has put the area at the centre of a national debate between heritage and development.
The mine could bring billions of euros in taxes and potentially thousands of jobs to an economically depressed region. But it will also require blasting four mountain tops, relocating the community and flooding one village to create a 300-hectare pond for chemical waste held back by a 180-metre-high dam.
On Friday, shares of Gabriel rose more than 20% after Romania’s economy minister said he was convinced the Rosia Montana project would start this year. The mine has the support of most of the 2,800 locals, the mayor and county administration and President Traian Basescu, eyeing the bounty the investment will bring.
Those who oppose the project – a handful of residents, several church, environmental and human rights groups, the Soros Foundation and neighbour Hungary, which fears the consequences of any environmental damage – want to turn the area into a UNESCO heritage site focused on tourism and farming.
Critics are concerned that concession rights were awarded without transparency and without exploring other options.
Romania’s new leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a political opponent of Basescu, has openly criticised both the plan and the president’s support, and the topic will be a focus of debate in the run-up to a November parliamentary election.
The issue also cuts to the heart of Romania’s economic problems, as the European Union’s second-poorest nation struggles to take advantage of its resources and strategic location between western Europe and the Middle East.
“Basically it’s a choice between two world views set around the question of how we see Rosia Montana and Romania’s future in five, 50 or 500 years,” said Magor Csibi, country manager at the Romanian arm of environmental group WWF.
“It’s a war of nerves,” said Csibi. “Whoever lasts longest wins.”

When hundreds rally against the mine in the capital Bucharest, hundreds rally in Rosia Montana in support. When Greenpeace activists stormed the ministry chaining themselves to radiators in January, mine supporters gathered outside demanding jobs days later. Countless court cases challenging the permits are pending, as are many appeals by the company.

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