Brazil wants more research on Amazon gold mine before Canadian company proceeds – by Tanya Talaga (Toronto Star – February 15, 2013)

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Brazilian government urges more studies on how Belo Sun Mining Corporation’s Volta Grande venture will affect the environment and indigenous peoples.

The Brazilian government wants to see more research on a massive gold-mining project near the Amazon River before the Canadian firm behind it goes ahead with developments.

Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry has asked state authorities to obtain more information on how the Belo Sun Mining Corporation’s Volta Grande venture, one of the largest gold mining projects near the Amazon, will affect the ecologically sensitive area and the indigenous people living there. It also wants details on any effects the project will have on the nearby Belo Monte dam, the third largest hydroelectric project in the world.

The Amazon River basin is one of the most precious ecosystems in the world. Deforestation and development in the area is a cause of global concern.

The Volta Grande is 60 kilometres southwest of the city of Altamira in the northern Para state. Belo Sun controls the mining and exploration rights covering 1,305 sq. km. The Toronto-based firm says it has already invested $100 million on exploration, purchases and improving the area by building a school.

Attorneys for the federal ministry argue the company should not get the licence it needs to proceed until FUNAI, a government body that safeguards the interests of indigenous people, puts forward terms of reference for studies on how mining will affect those living there. They also want broader public hearings, according to a statement released by the ministry last week.

And they want FUNAI to approve it all before the licence is granted, the statement said.

The Volta Grande is being constructed near the controversial Belo Monte dam, which diverts part of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, into an artificial canal. The Brazilian government says the dam is needed to feed Brazil’s growing energy needs but the Belo Monte has been the subject of decades of protests and legal challenges.

International environmental groups fear the combined effects of the dam and the mine on the area, and are applauding the steps Brazil is taking.

However, Belo Sun CEO Mark Eaton told the Star that the company has already submitted its social and environmental impact reports to the state government and they were accepted. Public hearings have already taken place and the company has followed all the proper protocols and procedures, Eaton said.

“The (federal ministry) has requested more consultation and studies to show we won’t have an impact on water levels or on indigenous communities — basically that everyone is doing their jobs,” Eaton said.

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