Dec 23 (Reuters) – Little more than a decade ago, one of the world’s largest known gold deposits sat abandoned in the foothills of the Dominican Republic’s Central Cordillera mountain range. Car-sized boulders leached heavy metals into what locals called the “blood river,” its waters ran so red from contaminants.
Today the mine, which reopened as Pueblo Viejo this year, hums with activity. Trucks with tires twice the size of an SUV roll through its massive open pits on roads that cut through the 11-square-kilometer site (4.24 square miles), transporting tons of rock to a processing facility.
Some 2,000 people already work here, churning out shimmering gold bars that are exported to Canada and the United States, but the mine has the potential to create 12,700 more direct and indirect jobs and contribute $1.3 billion a year in exports. This dynamic, foreign-operated enterprise is part of the country’s effort to develop an industry that could help boost and diversify its tourism-dependent economy.
Yet despite robust commercial production by two of the world’s largest gold mining companies, Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp and Goldcorp Inc, development of the mining sector is vexed by bureaucratic delays and agitation by activists still concerned about pollution and government deals with foreign companies to exploit the nation’s riches.
At stake are billions of dollars and thousands of jobs in a country of 10 million with high levels of unemployment and poverty.
The river close by the mine is no longer bloody, but the destruction wrought by the Rosario mine – the site’s previous name when it was run by the government until it closed in 1999 – left mining with a dirty name locally.
When they took over the mine site, Barrick and Goldcorp launched an extensive cleanup and environmental protection program to prevent pollution of the nearby streams. The mine says it treats 40,000 cubic meters of contaminated water per day.
“We don’t release any water until it’s been tested and meets standards,” said Jorge Lobato, operations environmental superintendent at the mine. “There are very few mines that have this type of (waste removal) operation.”
Nevertheless, local community groups remained concerned that the heavy metals from exposed rock could end up in nearby waterways, and the opposition says it is in for the long haul.
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