Romania's gold stays in the hills
By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Romania
A 10 year battle over a Romanian gold mine, which has divided the local
community, has resulted in a Canadian company suing the Romanian state for
blocking planning permission.
We were expecting gold, at least in the autumn leaves.
But when we arrived in the Apuseni Mountains the first snow of winter dusted
the hilltops, and the beech woods on the steep slopes gave only a dull, red,
Catalin Hosu and his team from the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation sweep us
up a muddy track in their four-wheel drive.
They are young and enthusiastic about the mine development, and they
describe it as the best chance to tidy up the mess left by the past 2,000
years of mining here, and to bring prosperity to these valleys.
"This project is definitely the only hope for this region," says Catalin's
colleague, Horea Avram.
In the failing grey afternoon light, we stand over a great brown-black pit.
A few fir trees and an abandoned bulldozer perch forlornly around the
On the other side of the mountain, beneath an outcrop called the Raven's
Beak, a dog barks somewhere near the church in the valley below.
All 380 homes and two churches in Corna village have to go, to make way for
a tailings (residue) pond where waste from the mine, in a cyanide solution,
will be stored.
Heavy metal rivers
The first shock for any visitor here is the extent of the existing damage.
The rivers run red with heavy metals: cadmium, zinc and iron already
unlocked from these hills by the mines of the past.
The corporation has even bottled some of it for their publicity campaign.
Rosia Red they call it.
"What keeps Rosia Red?" asks the label on the back.
"Anti-mining activists who want to stop a new, modern mine designed to
strict EU standards, that would actually clean up the rivers of Rosia!"
The second shock is the sheer extent of the Gold Corporation's plans to
change the landscape.
Cetate Hill will disappear altogether, like a bad tooth plucked from the
mouth of the Carpathians, to be pulverised along with three of its
In exchange, Romania has been promised more than £1bn ($2bn) in economic
Ancient conquerors spoke of enough gold here to pave a road all the way to
Rome. You can still find it in faraway museums, punched with Caesar's proud
Gold Corporation geologists admit that the main seams have already been
carted away, but say 300 tonnes are left in low concentrations.
That is why they need to grind up whole hills - 13 million tonnes of rock a
year - to make the operation worthwhile.
Homes belonging to opponents of the project are easily identifiable by their
yellow "This property is NOT for sale" signs, among the green, more frequent
plaques on homes already bought by the company: "Property of Rosia Montana
Project master plan
Remus Cernus is hammering and sandpapering a window-frame in his carpenter's
workshop when we arrive.
There is a picture of the Madonna and Child on the wall, and his home - like
the Orthodox Church in the village - is panelled with cherry, pine and beech
woods from his hard-working hands.
According to the project master plan, his house and workshop will disappear
under the deep base of the tailings pond.
"I do not want everything I've done here, the traces of my parents, my
forefathers on this earth, the very mountains which God created to
disappear," he says slowly.
And he speaks sadly of close relatives who were persuaded by the company to
It is a common theme among opponents of the mine: the divisive effect the
corporation's activities have had on local communities, with offers of money
or re-housing... and the freeze placed on any plans to improve local
facilities on the grounds that the company will do everything in the future.
On the slopes of Orla Hill, where his frozen land too should be ground up
for gold, Eugen David is defiant.
"There are thousands of villages in Romania which are developing without
gold," says the leading light of Alburnus Maior, the main opposition group.
"Why should this one be different?"
And anyway: "It's the Romanian state's responsibility to rehabilitate the
landscape, not some Barbados company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange!"
he mocks the corporation.
Later we sit in his kitchen, tasting his cheese, washed down with fiery plum
Diana, his nine-year-old daughter, describes debates in school between "the
Greenpeacers" - as some children call themselves - and the "Goldists".
And who is in the majority? "The Greenpeacers!" Diana says loyally, as her
grandmother brings another pancake from the top of the wood-burning stove,
and spreads it thickly with homemade rosehip jam.
Leaving Rosia Montana, we get our gold at last: a sudden flicker in the sky,
where we were least expecting it, after sunset.
It is -4C (25F) in the mountain pass above Arieseni. The snow is waist-deep
among the fir trees at the roadside.
And there is proof of some non-mining investment in the area. The ski slope
is preparing for its first visitors of the season.
>From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 10 November, 2007 at
1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the
m> programme schedules for World Service transmission times.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/11/10 11:29:24 GMT
© BBC MMVII
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