Gold has been mined around Rosia Montana, Romania, for almost 2,000 years.
(Piotr Malecki for The New York Times )
Town in Romania debates mine proposal
By Elisabeth Rosenthal
Published: December 27, 2006

ROSIA MONTANA, Romania: It is a classic tale of the developing world: a rich
North American company discovers gold under pristine land and encourages the
villagers to leave, offering money, homes in the city, soft-focus TV ads
that tout the benefits of the project, and some tough talk.

International environmental groups - complete with celebrities like Vanessa
Redgrave - descend on the town to support the locals, claiming that the mine
is illegal and polluting.

But as of Jan. 1, this large piece of land will sit within the European
Union, when Romania becomes a member. And resolving this dispute that has
torn apart this ancient Transylvanian mining town for the last decade will
test both the control of the Union over its newest members and promises by
Romania to govern with transparency.

It is also a big test for the Canadian developer, Gabriel Resources, which
has already spent nearly $200 million at the site and is waiting for Romania
to authorize the mine. That decision is expected early in the year.

"I believe if I fight for my rights within the EU, they will be respected,"
said Eugen David, 41, a farmer who is leading some of the villagers in
refusing to leave their properties. "There are laws that forbid involuntary
movement of people, there are regulations about testing of underground water
and clear standards for environmental impact. I want to keep my life here."

Gabriel Resources says it has complied with every Romanian and EU
regulation, as well as with World Bank dictates on resettlement.

Catalin Hosu, a communications manager for the company, said: "People get
emotional when you talk about foreigners, cyanide, gold, destroying churches
and cemeteries. But this is really a model of environmentally conscious

Those opposing the company say that pollution from a big mine would destroy
the village, the environment and archeological sites. A valley, now filled
with houses and four churches, will be dammed and converted to a storage
pond for the cyanide sludge produced by the processing.

Even worse, critics contend, an accident could send toxic waste downstream
into the Danube.

Rosario Golgoz, an engineer whose house is one of just a few that have not
been abandoned, said: "Their explorations will turn this into a desert."

But the project seems a fait accompli. About 300 employees of Gabriel
Resources ply the potholed street in late- model cars, far outnumbering
donkey carts and peasants in old clothes.

Green corporate banners hang from many dilapidated buildings - now converted
to offices for the Rosia Montana Mining Corporation, owned by Gabriel
Resources. They read: "We are saving Rosia Montana."

Last May the company delivered the environmental impact analysis required by
UN and EU laws.

The company agreed to clean up a local water system polluted by 2,000 years
of primitive mining techniques; it contains 110 times the legal limit of
zinc and 64 times the legal limit of iron.

Gabriel Resources has spent $9 million saving archeological sites -
including a second-century necropolis - a sum far greater than Romania's
budget for archeology.

But critics assert that the company is better at public relations than
science and that its environmental-impact analysis was deeply flawed.

A government panel from Hungary, which is downstream from Rosia Montana,
characterized the data as "insufficient, deficient, inaccurate or not
considered to be representative."

Before Gabriel Resources can get final approval, it must respond to such
criticisms, which have also come from environmental groups and local
nongovernment organizations and were raised at 16 public meetings in Romania
and Hungary. The mood is agitated because in 2000, a cyanide spill from an
older mine in Baie Mare, Romania, killed wildlife in the Hungarian portion
of the Danube and contaminated the water supply for 2.5 million people.

Gabriel Resources spent nearly $200 million and moved thousands of people
before getting an environmental clearance, and critics say that was illegal.
In its latest corporate report, the company told investors it expected
Romania to sign off on its environment impact analysis in the first quarter
of 2007 and to issue permits to build soon after.

"They are confident because in Romania it has been very easy to get what you
want with money - maybe not quite bribes," said Anamaria Bogdan, director of
Greenpeace Romania. "Now, the European Union already has their eyes on this
project and how Romania conducts itself."

So far, the European Union has remained neutral, although the environment
commissioner, Stavros Dimas, has "stressed that all relevant EU legislation
should be taken into account," said his spokeswoman, Barbara Helfferich.

She said the European Commission "does not have a formal role in evaluating
the project unless an official complaint is submitted," which cannot happen
until Romania is a member. But once Romania joins, a complaint may be

The history of the conflict dates to 1997, when Romania sold mining rights
for Rosia Montana to Gabriel Resources, which had never engaged in mining
but is 20-percent owned by Newmont Mining of Colorado. Rosia Montana has
been mined for 2,000 years, first delivering gold to its Roman conquerors.

A geological survey by Gabriel in 2000 found that 330 tons of gold and 1,600
tons of silver remained to be mined in four mountains that surround the
town, using a technique that involves blasting and cyanide extraction.

The company began to coax the 2,100 residents to move. The Romanian
government, which owns a small stake in the project, declared the area an
industrial zone, essentially precluding other types of development.

Hosu of the mining company said that more than 60 percent of the local
residents have left and that an additional 20 percent would probably leave
in two to three months. Most have chosen to move to the provincial capital
but some took up residence in a new community built by Gabriel near Rosia
Montana, Hosu said.

Many here regard the new mine as an opportunity to leave grinding poverty.

"I have a very good opinion of the company because they brought us
advantages when we had no possibilities," said Gheorghe Boia, 51, a laborer
with the local Archeology Department. The company bought his house for
$60,000, he said, and he will move his wife and daughter to a flat. A
Peugeot bearing a learner's permit in the driveway illustrates how the
compensation was spent.

Even so, there is a great difference of opinion about the mine on the
streets of Rosia Montana, and many residents refuse to discuss their
choices, or demand secret meetings.

Sorin Jurca, 44, an unemployed miner who has agreed to leave for a house in
the city and the promise of a job, said, "My family has lived here for
hundreds of years. I'll go, but I'll never get used to it."

Gabriel says it is reviving a dying and polluted region. "People like to
talk about beautiful nature but look around - this place has been mined for
2,000 years - welcome to the moon," said Hosu, standing at the edge of an
old pit.

To presage the town's revival, the company opened a free Internet café and
hosted a Christmas party with food, drink and bands. Posters display neat
model homes that Gabriel will build. A free DVD distributed by the company
describes the good life in a town in New Zealand, which sits near an open

But the holdouts of the town, led by the NGO, named Alburnus Maior, remain a
formidable foe - especially since international groups are rallying behind
them. In August, David organized a rally that attracted thousands, including
Vanessa Redgrave. More recently, Alburnus Maior successfully sued to protect
Roman ruins that sit smack in the middle of the proposed mine.

The latest plan by Gabriel calls for renovating the historic center as kind
of a mining theme park, featuring a bed and breakfast and a museum of
mining, geology and archeology.

"Let me know, that at least, she will try
Then she'll be a true love of mine"

Sageata Albastra e cea mai mare tzeapa a transportului public! 
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