The working group adjunct to Environmental and Mining Inspection established in line with Armenian Prime Minister's decree submitted its opinion on Amulsar gold-bearing quartzite mine in the form of 8 individual conclusions by 8 different experts. EcoLur starts publishing a cycle of the materials on these opinions. This publication shows the summary of the legislation, the provisions of which have been violated or might be violated with the implementation of Amulsar project. The summary has been provided by Environmental Lawyer Nazeli Vardanyan - a member of the working group, Director of 'Forests of Armenia' NGO. Individual violations of the legislation on Lake Sevan and water, violations regarding Jermuk resort town, violations of the legislation on soil, flora, fauna, protection of historical and cultural values, violation of laws on 'On Ensuring Sanitary and Epidemic Safety of Population' and 'On Expert Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment, legal regulation and project impact on Gndevaz, Gorayq, Kechout and Saravan villages have been considered. Violations of humans rights and those of the provisions of international conventions have been presented separately.
Conclusion on Amulsar Gold Quartzite Deposit
1. Violations of Water and Lake Sevan Legislation
Amulsar mine is located in the drainage basin of Lake Sevan and in case of its operation, surface and underground water will be polluted, which flow into Kechout and Spandaryan reservoirs, then to Lake Sevan through Vorotan-Arpa-Sevan tunnel which will damage the entire ecosystem of Lake Sevan.
According to Article 3 of RA Law “On Lake Sevan”, Kechout and Spandaryan reservoirs, the catchment basins of Arpa and Vorotan Rivers make up a part of Lake Sevan catchment basin.
Article 10 of the same law says, “1. Any type of activity in central, direct impact and indirect impact zones that has a dangerous impact on Lake Sevan ecosystem is prohibited.
2. Prohibited activities in the direct impact zone are:
a) use of ecologically harmful technologies producing wastewater,
b) production, use, and storage of radioactive substances and wastes, as well as ecologically hazardous or toxic substances;
c) deployment of enterprises dealing with ore processing
It is banned to use:
a) substances of high toxicity for aquatic organisms;
b) substances of non-high toxicity, which are conveyed through the food chain and accumulated in plants and animals;
c) substances of high and non-high toxicity, which dissolve slowly in waters of Lake Sevan, rivers and springs running into the lake;
d) substances, which are dangerous for Lake Sevan ecosystem, but can be easily removed from the biological system,
e) biogenic elements, heavy metals or their compounds that exceed permissible standards.
In 2012 Lake Sevan Expert Committee of NAS RA issued a negative opinion to Amulsar project, while on 29.02.2016 the same committee issued a non-substantiated and illegal positive opinion to this project.
The main requirements of Article 99 of RA Water Code, as well as the requirements of Article 108 of RA Water Code have been violated.
The company has concealed and misrepresented whatever could have had an essential influence on the results of the expert assessment and has a negative impact on the environment and human health.
• The documents submitted by the company miss the factual amount of acid drainage to be generated as a result of the operation, its hazardness, impact on the environment and effective mechanisms of its neutralization. Consequently, “Environmental Impact Expert Assessment” SNCO hasn't assessed the negative impact of acid drainage on the environment and human health, which could have had a substantive significance on the content of the conclusion and the outcomes of a decision-making process. The body having implemented the expert assessment seeks to present that the Acid Rock Drainage Management Plan has been submitted for expert assessment and this is not a newly emerged circumstance. Nevertheless, it doesn't comply with the reality as this documents was in the English language still in 2017 and wasn't translated into Armenian, consequently, it couldn't have been presented for expert assessment in the English language and be assessed.
• Whereas on 24.07.2017, Andrea Gerson (Smart Blue Minerals Consultancy, Australia, Ann Maest (PhD, Buka Environmental Boulder, CO, USA) and André Sobolewski, PhD Clear Coast Consulting, Inc. Gibsons, BC, Canada) produced a summary report based on the documents developed and submitted by the company to RA Nature Protection Ministry for expert assessment. The international experts have recorded, “Lydian's Amulsar gold mining project in Armenia doesn't have a proper environmental expert assessment, while long-lasting acid formation threatens the water quality”, meanwhile the company presented the impact to be insignificant.
• In the course of the expert assessment, “possible high-level release of metal” hasn't been assessed, particularly that “potential concerning concentrations of ammonia, antimony, arsenic, beryllium, bismuth, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nitrate, selenium, silver, fat, vanadium and zinc will be jointly dumped into the aqueducts.”
• Experts Ann Maest and André Sobolewski were informed during their meeting with the company representatives from 17 to 23 June 2018 that “the company has new plans for the description and mitigation of acid drainage”. These are essential deviations from the company ESIA in 2016. Such amendments must be submitted to the Armenian Government before launching the mining.
• According to Clause 6 of Chapter 4 of “Territorial Mapping of Catchment Basin of Lake Sevan” endorsed by governmental resolution N 746-N on 18.07.2013, “Borders of the catchment basin of Spandaryan reservoir are fixed, as well as the 3000-meter-long horizontal stripe stretching from the axis of Vorotan-Sevan tunnel as the immediate impact zone of the catchment basin of Lake Sevan.” Nevertheless, this provision of the resolution has been violated by the company, as the significant part of the bottomholes has been located in the 3000-meter-long horizontal stripe (buffer zone), which is a serious threat of pollution for Lake Sevan.
2. Violations of Legislation on Jermuk Health Resort Town
In the course of expert assessments, Jermuk wasn't an impacted community despite being a famous resort and hydropathic, a tourism center and state hydrological sanctuary with unique mineral water springs. Till 2016 during numerous discussions, the company representatives were substantiating it that Jermuk town is located far from the mine and won't undergo any impact. Now all the documents mention Jermuk Town and though it was recognized as an impacted community, no serious investigations have been carried on how the mine will impact the purity of mineral water springs, air, and water in Jermuk. In this case, when Jermuk is an impacted community, but it wasn't recognized as such in the course of previous expert assessments and no public hearings were held there, consequently, all the expert assessment opinions are illegal, as they have been performed in breach with the requirements of the Armenian legislation and the Aarhus Convention. It is banned to carry out any explosions in the sanitary conservation zones of Jermuk mineral water springs, to conduct any business activities polluting the environment.
The groundwater basin will also undergo a negative impact, which may have an adverse impact on Jermuk mineral water springs and the catchment basin of Lake Sevan.
In 2016, Jermuk Town was recognized as an impacted community, but measures were taken not to conduct any open public discussions being convinced that Jermuk residents are against the launch of the mining, as their only mean of living is giving their apartments for rent during 2-3 months a year to holidaymakers, sale of herbs, while the population is mainly employed at sanatoriums and mineral water plants, while in case of the mine presence, the number of holidaymakers and people visiting it for medical treatment will drastically decrease, which will substantially impact the living standard of this town with a population of 5000 people. Already two sanatoriums have been closed (rented by the company) and over 100 Jermuk residents have become unemployed. The number of beds for the holidaymakers has decreased, consequently, fewer holidaymakers will visit Jermuk, and the income of service and supply companies will reduce respectively.
The mine operations are located at a distance of 7 km from Jermuk Town, which contradicts Article 21 of RA Land Code, which says, “2. According to the legislation, sanitary (Highland sanitary) protection belts will be defined for implementing the requirements of the sanitary regulation and the environmental protection and preventing the diseases of the population, within the areas of medical resorts and medical facilities.
According to Article 104 of RA Water Code, “A water resource or its portions cannot be used for the discharge of wastewater and drainage water if:
1) The water resource contains natural medicinal resources (Jermuk mineral water – note by the author);
2) The water resource is a part of a specially protected watershed;
3) The water resource is located in the neighborhood of resorts and areas used for tourist entertainment, athletic events, and recreation purposes;
4) The water resource is a spawning and hibernation area for valuable species of fish;
5) The water resource is a habitat for valuable species of fauna and flora.”
Mining operations in Amulsar gold mine, Establishment of Jermuk National Park and tourism development are incompatible projects.
3. Impact on Gndevaz, Kechout, Gorhayq and Saravan Communities and Legal Regulations
The HLF will be located in Gndevaz Village itself - only in Gndevaz 274 privately owned land areas with a total surface of 152 ha won't produce agricultural products and will become not suitable for further use, consequently, the population will be deprived of its main living means. As a matter of fact, only in Gndevaz, around 1370 people (274x5=1370) will be deprived of their living means and will be unemployed.
According to the newly submitted documents, the communities located near the mine will be impacted with dust, noise and stink. In reality, this impact is already available. The materials submitted for expert assessment are missing any measures aimed to prevent the pollution of atmospheric air.
During the discussions of the working group, it was found out that the company doesn't have a permit for emissions and doesn't make relevant payments, which should have been made starting from the 7th day of launching construction works.
It should be mentioned that still in the construction stage the company damaged the drinking water pipeline of Gndevaz Village three times, strong erosion took place on the already-stripped slopes of the mountains during spring floods and muddy water flew into the pastures and land areas of Gndevaz residents. Besides that, the muddy water having leaked from the HLF area flew into the Arpa River thus polluting it and damaging the existing fish farm.
The circumstances laid down in the compliance investigation report dated on 19.06.2017 produced by the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), which particularly says that the CAO finds that the “IFC lacks assurance that project impacts on the community of Gndevaz have been subject to an integrated assessment which considers “all relevant E&S risks and impacts” as required by PS1.' Such an assessment hasn't been carried out for Kechout, Gorhayq and Saravan communities either.
The company will use the method of gold extraction with cyanide, and annually 1000 tons (10,000 tons in 10 years) of cyanide will be imported into Armenia, nevertheless, the plan of risk avoidance in regard with cyanide acquisition, transportation and storage hasn't been submitted. The EIA lacks assessment on the pollution of the environment as a result of vaporization at HLF and its prevention measures.
Violations of Legislation on Flora
During all previous discussion, the representatives of “Geoteam” company the arguments tabled by the society and specialists on the availability of red-listed plants and animals in the mine area. Nevertheless, the EIA and ESIA submitted in 2016 clearly said, ” In a short-time perspective, the Project will result in the loss of Potentilla porphyrantha, which is red-listed.” Who will be responsible and how the caused damage will be recovered if this plant doesn't adapt to the conditions of the greenhouse and gets eliminated.
This action violated Article 17 of RA Law on Flora, which says, ”Any activity is banned, which leads to the reduction of the number of red-listed plants in Armenia and the deterioration of their habitats.”
The company acknowledges that “that the Project will result in the loss of natural vegetation, including habitat for both Potentilla porphyrantha and Ursus arctos that, according to international standards, is designated as “critical habitat”. Mining will also reduce the quality of habitats as a result of noise and dust deposition, and by blocking animal movement.” Besides that, the company confirms the fact that “The Project will result in changes to the landscape that will not be fully restored to its pre-existing condition when mining is finished.”
4. Violations of Legislation On Preservation of Historical and Cultural Values
The ESIA says, “Surveys have identified 81 potential archaeological sites that are likely to be impacted by Project development, although none of these is considered by Armenian and international cultural heritage experts to be of high importance.”
According to the statements of the company specialists, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of NAS RA has carried out excavations and detected many valuable items, though the area was not taken for state preservation and it's on the verge of destroyal.
5. Violations of Legislation On Urban Development
According to RA Law “On Urban Development”, objects of special regulation in urban development can be separated,
b) In the catchment basin of Lake Sevan, in specifically protected areas of nature, as well as in the areas of hydrotechnical structures related to the use of water resources,
d) in the areas of urban development objects related to the interest of more than one administrative-territorial units.”
6. Violations of RA Law “On Ensuring Sanitary and Epidemiological Safety of Population”
According to Article 23 of RA Law “On Ensuring Sanitary and Epidemiological Safety of Population”, which says “Decisions on the issues of special significance by governmental bodies in the sector of ensuring sanitary and epidemiological safety of population shall be reached only in case of the availability of the positive opinion based on the data of professional expert assessment by RA State Hygiene And Anti-Epidemic Inspectorate.” Amulsar project hasn't undergone any sanitary and hygienic expert assessment.
7. Violations of Human Rights
Human rights to living in a healthy environment, as well as fundamental rights such as the right to property, information, participation in decision-making, access to justice and other rights have been violated. Because of the limited nature of the opinion, only several of them are mentioned:
Article 3 of RA Constitution says, “ 1. The human being shall be the highest value in the Republic of Armenia. The inalienable dignity of the human being shall constitute the integral basis of his or her rights and freedoms.
2. The respect for and protection of the basic rights and freedoms of the human being and the citizen shall be the duty of the public power.
3. The public power shall be restricted by the basic rights and freedoms of the human being and the citizen as a directly applicable law.”
Article 10 of RA Law “On Ensuring Sanitary and Epidemiological Safety of Population” says,
“Citizens have 1) right to a favorable environment and right to ensuring sanitary and epidemiological safety.”
Article 8 of Protocol 11 of ECHR protects your right to respect for your private life, your family life, your home, and your correspondence.
8. Violations of International Conventions and Agreements
-The Aarhus Convention – this convention lays down three fundamental rights – access to information, participation in decision-making on environmental matters and access to justice: in this case, all these three rights have been grossly violated.
- The Convention on Biological Diversity
- The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention)
- The Espoo (EIA) Convention
- Framework Convention on Climate Change
- The UN Convention to Combat Desertification
-The European Landscape Convention
- The Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage
-The Minamata Convention on Mercury
9. Different Circumstances Containing Elements of Corruption and Questions
When summarizing this opinion, the following questions and concerns have arisen and only in case of receiving the answers to them, it will be possible to sort out the real situation:
• How have different experts issued a positive opinion in case of the aforementioned legislative obstacles in the course of years and how these non-substantiated and illegal opinions have been endorsed by different ministers? Who has instructed them to do so?
• What is the substantiation of the positive opinion of Lake Sevan Expert Committee on 29.02.2016? It is necessary to reveal why the Committee didn't take into account its previous decision of 2012? Which members of the committee took part in the session and what opinions were expressed?
• How has the company having no experience in mining received permits?
• Why has the company submitted incomplete, false and unreliable data for expert assessment?
• Why didn't the company, having been issued a positive expert assessment and a mining permit in 2009, start construction works in the mine and the term was amended with different contracts adjusting to the preferences of the company? Whether it is probable that the company doesn't have any intention to deal with mining at all?
• Why the company made several amendments to the project having not even launched the construction works and increased areas and reserves and received proper permits? As a result, the state incurred damage, as the mining didn't start in the set timeframes and no taxes were paid to the state budget.
• Why weren't Jermuk and Kechout communities recognized as impacted communities?
• Why weren't public hearings held in Jermuk and Kechout communities and how, in this case, a positive opinion of expert assessment was issued in 2016?
• Why haven't the other communities of Gegharkounik, Syunik and Vayots Dzor Regions using the water of the catchment basin been recognized as impacted communities, when it became clear in 2016 that there was a risk of acid drainage and water pollution risk?
• Why did the government endorse with its resolution № 781-Ն dated on 31.06.14 'On Preservation of Flora in the Republic of Armenia and Setting Procedure for Their Use for the Purpose of Reproduction in Natural Conditions” (hereinafter the Regulation), whereas this regulation entirely contradicts the provisions of the Armenian legislation and international conventions (see Clause 5 of this opinion). As a matter of fact, this regulation has especially been envisaged for the translocation of Potentilla porphyrantha from Amulsar areas, as no other issued has been permitted since 2014 and chronologically it fits into the timeframes of detecting Potentilla porphyrantha in this area.
• Why hasn't accompanying substances been mentioned while confirming the reserves and the presence of uranium, thorium, alunites, copper, zinc, iron, aluminum, arsenic and other elements has been concealed when the data of Gromov's expedition in 1954 and A. Qocharyan's Doctoral Dissertation in 1969 are available at the Geological Fund?
• Why did the Agency of Bioresources Management say in its letter №22-8/100 dated on 01.09.14 that there are endemic and red-listed species in the area, while in its letter №22-8/121 dated on 14.10.2014 accepted the explanations of the company and didn't state that any operation is banned in this area, including mining?
• Why didn't the ministries and departments submit proposals and objections (sectorial)?
• Why haven't cultural and historical objects been taken under state supervision and protection and why business activities haven't been banned in these areas?
• Why did the government amend with its resolution № 244-N the governmental resolution N 51-Ն dated on 21.01.10 and increase the open-pit car road horizontal slope up to 100%. What is the relation of this amendment to the construction of the roads by the company?
• Why hasn't the State Urban Development Inspection carried out inspections in the company?
• Why haven’t economic analyses been carried out in terms of economic and environmental losses and benefits /short-term and long-term/, as well as analyses on the living standard of the population, increase in poverty and other social, environmental and economic risks? In the long run, having investments shouldn’t be an end in itself for the country, but the investments should be safe in terms of ecology, national and food safety, human health and beneficial for the state.
• Why hasn’t a mandatory sanitary and hygienic expert assessment been carried out /see Clause 9 of Conclusion/? Mandatory sanitary and hygienic expert assessment must be carried out.
• Whether the company has provided main urban development documents for objects of special regulation and whether there are construction permits received in a statutory procedure?
• Who received the money under Social Component of the Project and for what purpose? To what extent they have been spent effectively (whether they have been given to impacted communities) (for example, under our information money has been allotted to Yeghegnadzor (which is not an impacted community), “Center for Regional Tourism” NGO, while its director is employed at the company, whether this money hasn’t been allotted to interrelated and decision-making people or for the projects funded by the state etc)?
• Why has the company financed foundations interrelated with the mass media, NGOs and officials?
• Whether corruption mechanisms haven’t been applied in land acquisition process?
• Whether land areas from Gndevaz residents have been obtained fairly and under equal conditions?
• Whether the categories of all land areas located in the project area have been changed in a statutory procedure?
• Why did the Government with its resolution N 417-Ա dated on 20.04.2017 postponed paying VAT for those goods that have no connection with the activities of the company (mining), particularly doors of Italian production (2685 items), windows (1500 items), fitting for doors and windows (500itmes plus 2,448 items of Czech production), lamps and other light equipment, tiles made from plaster, ceilings (8500 items), sinks, baths, bides, flush toilets (293 items),with total value of 27,677,784,604 AMD?
• Whether the company regularly pays taxes and other state payments?
• Whether the company has all the permits needed for its operation (for example, water permit, sewage discharge permit, emissions permit etc)?
Taking into consideration the aforementioned facts and circumstances, as well as numerous gross violations of the Armenian legislation and the international standards, which can cause significant and irreversible damage to the health of the population, the environment, and national security I find that the implementation of Amulsar project is impermissible. All the permits and expert assessment opinions having+ been issued with the violation of the law shall be recognized null and void.
Member of the Working Group,
Environmental Lawyer Nazeli Vardanyan
October 17, 2018 at 19:17