IS IT POSSIBLE TO AVOID ECOLOGICAL DISASTER IN TEGHUT FOREST?

YEREVAN, MARCH 31, NOYAN TAPAN. Public hearings on the project of
the Theghut copper and mloybdenum deposit's development took place
on March 23. The purpose of the hearings, which were organized by the
Armenian Copper Program (ACP) company, was to discuss the package of
the documents on assessing the enviromental impact which is currently
being examined by the RA State Ecological Expertise. The operation
period of the deposit, which is considered as lacking in prospects,
is 50 years. The decision about its development was taken after a jump
in the market prices of copper. In the last four years, the prices
of cooper increased from 1,400 USD to 5,202 USD for a ton, while
the prices of molybdenum - from 5,500 USD to 7,000-8,000 USD. "If
international prices fall to the same level as they were 4 years
ago, the further development of the deposit will become impossible,"
the company director Gagik Arzumanian said.

In his words, the company intends to use the open-cut ore mining
method. In reality the upper layer of the deposit is 600 ha of
Teghut forest with its unique ecosystem. For example, according to
the estimates of Professor Eleonora Gabrielian, one of the leading
botanists, 19 plant species found in the forest have been included
in the Red Book of Armenia. ACP envisages to compansate for damage
and plant trees on any area of 600 ha (not necessarily in Teghut) in
parallel with its main activities. In this connection the ecologists
expressed a unanimous opinion that tree planting does not mean forest
restoration, as it is impossible to move the animals and birds to a new
place or transplant each of the unique grass and flower species. The
Kharatadzor gorge with a small river flowing along it is also under
the threat of ecological disaster.

It is envisaged to turn the gorge into a tailing dump for molybdenum
ore waste. During the first stage, it is planned to mine 7 mln tons
of ore a year by gradually increasing the volume to 21 mln tons. The
concentrate yield will not exceed 2%, and 98% of the ore will be
dumped in the tailing pit of the gorge. Besides tails, slug-heaps
are also formed in the process of ore extraction: 54 cubic meters a
ton. These slug-heaps will be stored in the area of Teghut forest
near the deposit, with further land reclamation. The ecologists
also questioned one of the main arguments in favor of the program's
implementation - the improvement of the socioeconomic situation
and creation of jobs in the region. If the ore extraction becomes
unprofitable or the deposit exhausts its potential, the population
will in any case remain jobless in an ecologically "dead zone" and
without any prospects for the future. The local residents are ready
to concede the forest in exchange for jobs. The Alaverdi ore mining
and processing enterprise also owned by the ACP company has been the
only source of their incomes in recent years. The document package
does not state the value of the ecological component, although the
amount of investments for the preliminary stage has been estimated: it
makes 130-150 mln USD. In the event of the project's implementation,
the ecologists insist on accepting the proposal for the creation of
a specially protected area around the deposit in Teghut forest. The
proposal was made by Karen Manvelian, Director of the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF) Caucasus Program Armenian Office.