November 4, 2011 / 5:05 PM / 8 years ago

Peru urges new water plan for $4.8 bln Conga mine

* U.S.-based miner resumes work
    * Conga would be biggest investment ever in Peruvian mine
    * Humala blames local politicians for fomenting conflicts
    LIMA, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Peru urged U.S.-based Newmont
Mining Corp on Friday to improve the environmental plan for its
$4.8 billion Conga gold mine, which community groups oppose
because they fear it would displace a string of alpine lakes.
    Environment Minister Ricardo Giesecke said Newmont 
should consider revising the project's environmental impact
plan, even though it was approved a year ago during the term in
office of then-President Alan Garcia.
    The project, which would mark the biggest investment in the
history of Peruvian mining, has run into stiff opposition and
local political leaders have protested to demand the company
abandon it.
    President Ollanta Humala's government has sought to mediate
the conflict and has said it wants to see the mine built. Conga
would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes and
royalties for the government.
    "I wouldn't say the environmental plan is incomplete, but
rather imperfect," Giesecke said on RPP radio. "Let's not be
mistaken, the main part of the mine would be underneath where
one of the lakes sits."
    He said the miner and its Peruvian partner, precious metals
miner Buenaventura , should try to find new ways to keep
the lakes intact.
    "Getting rid of the lakes would be like dynamiting the
glaciers in the Andes, we'd be creating a problem that impacts
the ecosystem," Giesecke said.
    "I'm sure the miner has the resources, scientists and
technology to quickly reevaluate its plan."
    Buenaventura's Chief Executive Roque Benavides said it
would "seem absurd" to revise an environmental plan that
already had been approved.
    Newmont officials did not comment on Giesecke's remarks,
but said they had resumed work on Conga after temporarily
evacuating some workers and stopping earth-moving activity on
Thursday over worries protesters would invade the site.
    At least 1,000 residents gathered on Thursday in Pampa
Verde, about 12 miles (20 km) down the road from the Conga
site, to voice opposition to the mine but there were no reports
by police of any clashes in the area.
    Community groups are planning a much larger protest against
the project in the region of Cajamarca next Wednesday.
    CALL FOR DIALOGUE
    Humala, who campaigned on promises to calm debilitating
social and environmental conflicts over natural resources that
hobbled Garcia's term, said more dialogue was needed.
    "We need to resolve social conflicts," Humala told
reporters on Friday. "I think this can be done through
dialogue."
    Speaking in general terms about hundreds of disputes
nationwide, Humala also blamed regional and municipal
politicians for fomenting conflicts over natural resources.
    "People with low approval ratings or facing re-elections
will raise any flag just to safeguard their political futures,
but this comes at the cost of generating and deepening
conflicts," Humala said.
    Three months into his term, Humala has temporarily settled
a vexing conflict over one of Southern Copper's mining
projects.
    And despite a lingering strike at Freeport-McMoRan's Cerro Verde copper mine, Humala has won the support of
Peru's largest labor confederation, which has stopped issuing
threats for general strikes like those that dogged Garcia.
    But the Conga project is his biggest challenge yet and --
with an investment equivalent to 3.6 percent of gross domestic
product -- is so large that a failure to see it open could
frustrate the business community.
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