Hayk Aloyan: “Amulsar project is truly a unique investment project in Armenia”

06.08.2014 | 10:42 Home / News / Interviews /

Mediamax’s interview with Geoteam CEO Hayk Aloyan

- The Amulsar project is one of the most talked about new investment projects in Armenia. It’s one of the largest and one of the very few representing “western investment”. The project has been delayed from its initial implementation timeline and it doesn’t look to be moving forward. Where are you now with the project?

- The Amulsar project is truly a unique investment project in Armenia.  We are keen to get it right and ensure that all aspects of the investment have been fully considered as we move forward.  This is a project that will have a considerable impact on Armenia’s economic future, and on the livelihoods of the local community.   

As you know, we had to change the heap leach facility location design twice during the last two years in response to changing laws and regulations. This has inevitably resulted in delays.  But we are moving forward.  Last year, as a result of the work of a joint Lydian and Government working group a new location for the Heap Leach facility was chosen which complies with the new regulations  

The opportunities that this investment represents for Armenia are considerable.  We are investing around $320 million dollars.  When we start operations, we will be able to provide up to about 1500 jobs for during the peak construction stage.  We are planning on around 700 permanent jobs during at least 10 years of operations. Preference for hiring will be given to the local communities. It will mean continuing development for the region and the country.

- The Heap Leaching method that you are using for the mine will be a new technology in Armenia and there isn’t much knowledge and many concerns. How safe is this ore processing method?  

- The most important difference between Heap Leaching and the other processing methods used in Armenia is that it does not produce a tailings dump; it is a modern, completely contained process with no industrial discharge into the natural environment.

When the mine reaches the end of its productive life and eventually closes the Heap Leach Facility (which is basically a pile of rock) is rinsed off, cleaned up, covered with top soil, revegetated and is a safe and reclaimed hill covered with soil and grass, with no toxic residuals, left behind.

Last year we took the mayors from the local community to the US where they saw 4 mines with heap leach facilities operating safely next to communities. I strongly believe that we can and should have modern, safe mines in our country. If it is possible elsewhere, like in the US, Canada, Norway or Sweden, why can’t we have it in Armenia?

- What would you say to those who are skeptical that your company will implement the same high standards in Armenia as it would in a more developed country?

- When you are a company listed in Canada, with institutional shareholders like the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) amongst your investors, you have to operate to the highest environmental, social, and health and safety standards as well as with transparency and accountability. These shareholders apply the same global standards to all of their investments, no matter where they are. We will strictly comply with all Armenian laws and regulations and go further by bringing in international best practice, including the IFC Performance Standards, to ensure that Amulsar project is an example of a truly modern mine with tangible benefits for the country.

- You have always emphasized that local communities support the project; however some of the residents of Gndevaz have recently expressed concerns in a complaint about the project.

- We have worked closely, openly and transparently with all the local communities and listened to all questions and concerns.  We have always kept everyone informed, through monthly community information meetings.  We have set up  an information center in Gndevaz. We strongly believe that the majority of the community see the strong benefits in this investment, and understand that it will be a world-class facility that will be operated in line with industry best practice.  It will have wider community benefits, and generate wealth that can be invested in other areas to support future economic development. We will continue to involve our local communities in our planning and ensure that the facts are clearly set out.  

- According to the complaint the villagers are worried about the possible impact of dust and the heap leach process on their crops as well as on their health. They state they are already feeling the impact.

- The project hasn’t started yet.   But we understand the community’s natural concerns.  We are also clear about our obligation to continue to partner with them so that they have all the information they need to understand accurately the details of the project. We have already provided the results of a number of independent environmental studies.  These have proved that the dust produced during the mining operations will be managed according to international standards and will pose no risk.  I am absolutely confident that the health and safety of the communities will not be affected by the operation. Regular independent monitoring will take place to ensure that we are held to account and operate safely for all residents.

This is my country and I care about it its future. As a geologist I have seen dozens of modern mines in countries like Australia and the United States and I am convinced that mines like these can operate to the highest global standards.

- There are concerns about people’s lands that the company wants to buy as well as crops and apricot orchards. How much land does the company plan to buy or lease?

- Most of Gndevaz’s current apricot production comes from land that is not going to be part of our infrastructure, so most orchards will be able to continue producing.

However, the land we will need for building the Heap Leach Facility has about 30 hectares of newly planted apricot orchards.  The reality is that some are producing, some are not. We are sensitive to the need to properly compensate land owners and farmers.  All landowners who own orchards that are on land we need to buy or lease will be offered full compensation through a transparent and fair process. We have commissioned a group of international and local experts to conduct a set of detailed studies on land valuation, livelihoods and agriculture potential, looking at all possibilities.

Fruit drier in Gndevaz
Photo: Geoteam

We strongly believe that mining can co-exist with agriculture and have implemented a number of agricultural projects in the communities already. One of the latest projects is a modern fruit drier we established in Gndevaz so that the residents can not only continue to produce apricots but are also able to realize further value from them.  

- Are there actually any examples of mining and agriculture successfully co-existing together?

- I believe that Armenia can develop into a country that can supports all its citizens’ aspirations to a better life.  And I know that working together, all sectors can deliver this.   There are many  examples of modern, safe mining operations that co-exist with agriculture, tourism and other industries. I have seen flourishing agricultural lands neighboring huge mining projects in many countries.  

But I can understand the concerns.  I believe  that we can address these concerns, and work in partnership across Armenia to make this project a success.  Partnership will be the key in getting this done right for the benefit of the region and the country.

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