Yeghegis Community Finds Positive EIA Opinion to Vardenis Polymetallic Minefield Illegal

Yeghegis Community Finds Positive EIA Opinion to Vardenis Polymetallic Minefield Illegal

Yeghegis community residents, Vayots Dzor Region, continue to fight against the geological prospecting at polymetallic mining site in Vardenis. The locals claim that the positive opinion issued by the "Environmental Impact Expert Assessment Center" of RA Environment Ministry on December 9, 2022 does not meet the requirements of the Armenian legislation and is based on the incorrect record of public hearings that did not take place.

A public hearing, scheduled for October 14, 2022, was boycotted and dropped because of community opposition to the proposed activity. Artur Stepanyan, Head of Yeghegis Community, declared the hearings not held. 

About 2 months later, RA Environment Ministry issued a positive opinion to the application for geological prospecting at Vardenis polymetallic mining site, which says: "Discussion participants, referring to the geological prospecting, expressed their opposition to further possible extraction operations." 

"I personally attended the public hearings. It was a very tense situation, there was no discussion, there were only arguments. No decision was reached, so the mayor declared that the hearings were not held," Yeghegis Deputy Mayor, Member of Aldermen’s Council Aharon Gabrielyan told EcoLur.

"The hearings did not take place. They left, and they came back a month ago and presented to the regional governor's office that they were issued a positive opinion," Samvel Gevorgyan said, Administrative Head of Vardahovit Settlement of Yeghegis Community.

"I was against it from the beginning, it is unacceptable for me. They tried to hold hearings in Vardahovit, I personally participated: Community Head declared the public hearing not held," Zoya Martirosyan said, a member of Yeghegis Community Aldermen’s Council, a family doctor of "Hripsime" rural medical clinic.

Back in October 2022, Vayots Dzor Regional Governor issued its negative opinion regarding Vardenis mining project. 

The author of geological prospecting project at Vardenis polymetallic mining site is "Mendia Resources" LLC. The requested site is located in the administrative area of ​​Vardahovit village of Yeghegis consolidated community and occupies about 94 km2 or 9399.3 hectares. The primary minerals mined are gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, molybdenum. The average depth of the wells is planned to be 250 meters, the number of wells makes up 10-20.

Ever since 2012, "Geomining" LLC, whose main shareholder was the Canadian company "Dundee Precious Metals", has been performing prospecting in various mining sites. 

"Geomining" LLC identified three prospective sites: Artsiv, Arjuk, and Hazbi. In 2019, the company wanted to continue polymetallic exploration in the mining area of about 195 km2 or 19,483.56 hectares. However, during the public hearing, the locals did not allow a hearing and rejected the project. 

EcoLur team went up to the mining area in ​​Vardenis with the locals and the representatives of RA Environmental Protection and Mining Inspection Body and recorded that a new road with a length of about 5 km, a width of 4-5 meters and a depth of up to 2.5 meters was opened in that area. A large amount of land resources, mostly alpine meadows, which are used for cattle grazing, have been violated. The area is also an eco-corridor for wild animals. The employees of RA Environmental Protection and Mining Inspection Body stated that they do not know who laid this road.

"About 5-6 km of such a road was laid, which is a severe environmental violation. Their promises and activities do not match," Aharon Gabrielyan said.

"They used to take soil from the surface of the ground with a bag, the tractor was recently introduced. I don't know if it was their tractor or another tractor that laid the road," Samvel Gevorgyan said.

According to geological prospecting permit No. EHT-29/370 and soil management agreement No. P-370 issued to "Mendia Resources" LLC, the company plans to carry out geological and topographic mining, geochemistry, geophysics, surface mining, construction and repair of roads and wells, drilling of wells, sampling, engineering hydrogeological studies, monitoring, and reclamation. 

Main Risk is WATER

Local residents are worried that polymetallic mining project in Vardenis will exert a negative impact on water sources, whereas Lake Sevan will be polluted through Arpa-Sevan tunnel.

"21.2 percent or 141-143 million cubic meters of the water resources basin of Vayots Dzor Region is located in the project area. The basin of irrigation and drinking water, underground water of Vayots Dzor Region starts from that area. The entire water irrigation system irrigates 13 settlements of Vayots Dzor marz through Khanjyan stream or Hermon-Yelpin water line. All the vineyards of Areni community are irrigated with this water, from where we get 6,000 tons of pure Areni grapes, 2,000 tons of peaches, 800 tons of cherries, and 1,000 tons of plums. Areni wine alone brings more than 30 million dollars of income annually," the local resident outlined.

"I'm against sources, I've been saying it from the first day until today," Samvel Gevorgyan said. "There is a shortage of fresh water all over the planet as a result of global warming. There are countries where drinking water is more expensive than gold. We must protect the sources of our freshwater," Zoya Martirosyan noted.

Community Development Prospects

"The miraculous gorge of Yeghegis has great prospects for the development of tourism for our national population and our country. This area is entirely alpine meadows, and pastures, our population fully uses it, and there is no free space," Aharon Gabrielyan said.

"Most of the people living here are engaged in animal husbandry. They also do a lot of beekeeping. This is not compatible with the mining industry," Zoya Martirosyan said.

The area intended for geological prospecting is adjacent to specially protected areas of nature. At a distance of 3.5-4.0 km from the site is "Jermuk Hydrological" state reserve, at a distance of 7.5-8.0 km are "Herher Open Woodland Sanctuary" and "Yeghegis" state reserves. From the edge of the mining area to the nearest part of "Sevan National Park" is more than 10 km.

Owners of Mendia Resources

According to State Register of Legal Entities of RA Justice Ministry, "Mendia Resources" LLC was registered in 2021. According to the declaration published in March 2022, the owners of the company were Armenian citizen Lilit Aramyan with a 15 percent share and Australian citizen Moore Dennis Jay with an 85 percent share. 

Moreover,  Moore Dennis Jay is no longer existent in the declaration of June 2023. Instead, Lilit Aramyan became the 99 percent shareholder of the company. The shareholder of the remaining 1 percent is unknown. 

September 12, 2023 at 16:12

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