Romanian mining town suffers from its gold riches

Thu May 31, 2012 1:01pm EDT
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By Luiza Ilie

ROSIA MONTANA, Romania (Reuters) - Nature has carved a humbling landscape of deep river valleys and reddish peaks in a corner of the Carpathian mountains in western Romania.

Rosia Montana town, made up of 16 villages that dot the slopes along the river Rosia, has hundred-year-old churches and houses, cemeteries and ancient Roman mine galleries.

It also has gold. But for those who live here, that is more of a bane than anything else.

Canada's Gabriel Resources wants to build Europe's largest open cast gold mine in Rosia Montana, a 15-year quest that has put the area at the centre of a national debate between heritage and development.

The mine could bring billions of euros in taxes and potentially thousands of jobs to an economically depressed region. But it will also require blasting four mountain tops, relocating the community and flooding one village to create a 300-hectare pond for chemical waste held back by a 180-metre-high dam.

The mine has the support of most of the 2,800 locals, the mayor and county administration and President Traian Basescu, eyeing the bounty the investment will bring.

Those who oppose the project - a handful of residents, several church, environmental and human rights groups, the Soros Foundation and neighbor Hungary, which fears the consequences of any environmental damage - want to turn the area into a UNESCO heritage site focused on tourism and farming.

Critics are concerned that concession rights were awarded without transparency and without exploring other options.   Continued...

A general view of an old quarry near Rosia Montana vilage, 428 km (266 miles) northwest of Bucharest, seen from the top of one of the four proposed mining quarries on October 4, 2011. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti