Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Galicia is Not For Sale!

Last Sunday I decided to go for a walk. This is not an unusual thing for a Sunday, but this walk was around an area which, if the provincial government of Galicia and a Canadian gold mining company get their way, will soon no longer exist. At least not as a place in which you would want to take a walk.

The area in question is in Corcoesto in the Costa da Morte, no more than 8 kilometers from a pristine wetland area which hosts many species of wildlife. The river Anillons then flows in the Ria de Ponteceso and on into the sea.  It is a place of silence and very rare beauty.

I drove through Corcoesto twice without ever realizing it was there.  It is a typical Galician “aldea”: a tiny gathering of granite cottages, corn cribs and barns with cows chewing the cud.  Donkeys are still widely used in place of tractors and some carts still have wooden wheels. The population is aged. The women wear black or the ubiquitous blue apron seen all over Galicia.

It is well known that Spain is undergoing a serious recession. The unemployment rate is in excess of 25% and considerably higher amongst people under 25. Few stay in the countryside or continue the family tradition of farming.
So you would imagine perhaps, that a mining initiative might be just the ticket to revitalize the economy in this community. You would think that the majority of the people here would welcome the mine and certainly certain interested parties would tell you that this is indeed the case.

It is not.
The sign in the photo above reads, in Galician: "A Pyramid of Greed".
I went to Corcoesto to join a walk of 12 kilometers around the proposed site .We walked along crystal rivers and tracks fringed with foxgloves, through oak and pine and eucalyptus. There was no sound except our hushed voices and the sounds of our boots on the gravel. I tried to envisage the site as it would be with its plant, its open pit, its mine workings, its waste dump, its heavy construction vehicles. I tried to imagine the noise of dynamite and the rumble of trucks as the gold was taken away. I tried to imagine the smell of dust not  gorse and wild roses. I couldn’t do it for too long. It made me want to cry.

The old man on the horse told me that his blood pressure has shot up since December just wondering if the axe was going to fall.  The woman told me she would have joined the walk but her arthritis was too bad. She was afraid. The young girls told me that the environmental cost to this area would be devastating and that the mine would be in operation for eight years only. The man in the T-shirt wondered just how much of the wealth their ancestral land would yield would trickle down to the community; how many high end jobs would be given to outsiders. We agreed it was not an optimistic thought.
The Romans came to Galicia for gold. The city of Ourense receives its name from the precious metal. Oro is the Spanish word for gold.  Even today in Corcoesto above the river there are the remains of a mine shaft dating from 1895 through to 1910 and various exploitations have been carried out during the earlier part of the 20th century. As gold prices fell, the mine workings became unprofitable and were abandoned, However, with today’s premium price for gold, eyes have returned to Galicia’s potential, and believe me there is still a fair bit of it!

How much? Well, it depends on who you talk to. The Corcoesto load runs right through the Costa da Morte from Malpica in the north, and stretches to the Portuguese border at Tui almost 200 kilometers away.  The problem is, that despite the firms marketing strategies, it is not easily available: what there is left is only in tiny microparticles. In order to release it, the rocks have to be pulverised and cyanide used. Arsenic is also then released into the air as a result of the explosions. In such a rainy climate this means leaching of highly toxic waste into the groundwater.
The precedent for this mine should not be lost on anyone who fears for the total environmental destruction of this very beautiful and green province.
How serious is the environmental impact?

I hope I won’t be infringing on anyone’s intellectual property if I quote the contents of a letter sent to the European Parliament. I have yet to find whether the questions which follow it have been answered:
“The Galician government has adopted a law regulating industrial policy in Galicia with the aim of boosting investment in Galicia's industrial fabric. Its objectives include the development of strategic industrial projects involving proposed investments in industrial plants that are expected to result in a significant expansion of Galicia's industrial fabric. A series of conditions are laid down. Projects must lead to the creation of at least 250 jobs, and proposals must be backed by an undertaking (including partnerships) which will make the required investment.
Under this legislation, a Canadian company has proposed to open an open-cast gold mine in the district of Corcoesto (A Coruña). The environmental impact of this project is beyond doubt, since the extraction of 30 000 kg of gold will produce 6 million tonnes of waste. A residents' association set up to oppose the project estimates that the mine will be operational for 10 years. The company itself envisages a 20-year lifespan.
Moreover, the mining methods used may have a serious impact on the natural environment, in particular water, since they involve a cyanide-based extraction process. The European Parliament resolution of 5 May 2010 on a general ban on the use of cyanide mining technologies in the European Union called for these methods to be banned by the end of 2011. The citizens' action group against the mine has also complained that the correct procedures for informing the public were not complied with and that no economic guarantee or commitment has been given to offset the inevitable impact that the mine will have”
1. Is the Commission aware of this situation?
2. Given that it involves a cyanide-based extraction process, does the Commission believe that this project complies with Community regulations?
3. What steps will the Commission take to ensure that this goldmine project complies with the procedures guaranteeing public information and transparency that are required under Community regulations?
The man in the expensive white car near the church didn’t want to comment that much was clear. I asked if he thought it would impact on the life of the people in Corcoesto: “It’ll be a bit noisier”, he said. Did he think that most people were for or against it?  “About equally based.”
The video from the Canadian Edgewater Exploration company on the environmental impact of the site goes further: in a poll of 2012 “80% of neighbouring municipalities welcome the project”. Neighbouring Municipalities, note; not people. The politicians want it, but the people don’t.

The video also states quite specifically that the life expectancy of the mine is 9 years. This is at odds with the 20 years also claimed by the mining company elsewhere.
In nearby Carballo, a town virtually created from wolfram mining through the 1950’s, a recent demonstration drew well over a thousand demonstrators from this tiny community.  This Sunday a much bigger "manifestación" is planned for Santiago de Compostela.

I’ll be with them. Some things simply must be beyond money even in a country desperate for it. The price of gold can never equal the cost of what would be lost in Galicia forever.
“Soy contraminante!”