Landslide at gold mine endangers community

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Bellavista de Miramar, Costa Rica
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Photo: Vestiges of landslides. Credit: Sonia Torres

Miramar, a picturesque town named for its view of the nearby Gulf of Nicoya, is typical of the Costa Rican countryside with lush vegetation, steep hills, abundant biodiversity, and clear rivers that flow to the coast. However, this popular weekend retreat has been irreversibly damaged by a gold mining operation.

In 2002, the Costa Rican government granted an environmental permit to build an open-pit gold mine near Miramar. The permission was granted despite years of warnings from mining experts in AIDA and other groups about the dangers of constructing such a mine in a mountainous region with a high level of seismic instability and a propensity for landslides and torrential rainfall.

In July 2007, Glencairn Gold Corporation – the Canadian mining company that had been extracting gold from the open-pit mine using a method known as “cyanide heap-leaching” – closed the mine, citing concerns about ground movements caused in part by heavy rains. Suspicious that these seismic events may have ruptured the liner underneath the piles of ore and waste rock at the mine, AIDA and other environmental groups have requested detailed information from Glancairn and the Costa Rican government regarding the incident. These piles contain toxic substances that would contaminate the soil and ground water if the protective liner were breached. As of November 2009, AIDA has received no response from the company or the government of Costa Rica.

The mining project remains closed, and the people in the nearby community have no information about the extent of environmental problems that may exist at the site. Meanwhile, the promises of economic improvement and job growth have gone up in smoke. Nor is there any guarantee that anyone will be around to pick up the bill if there are future environmental problems related to the mine. Will it be the foreign mining company – or the citizens of Costa Rica?

Together with its partners, AIDA is pushing the Costa Rican government and Glencairn to fully monitor environmental impacts at the closed mine, remediate any environmental impacts, and comply with all applicable environmental laws and regulations. Ideally, the mining company would be obligated to completely restore the environment to its original condition before leaving the site.

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