ArcelorMittal Liberia, which is operating a range of mountains in Nimba County, said it will soon begin mining Mount Gangra, another virgin mountain in the county, which is situated west of Mount Nimba near Mount Tokadeh in the former mining town of Yekepa.
At a press conference held on Friday, October 14, ArcelorMittal Liberia’s Communications Manager Hesta Baker Pearson said the company is now working with consultants from the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) team in the county to gain approval from the government for key permits to proceed on Mt. Gangra, an essential activity for the project to commence.
“In addition,” she said, “the Community Liaison unit has started work to establish the correct and fair compensation where land use is required by ArcelorMittal.”
Ms. Pearson’s pronouncement has already received the backing of Nimba County Superintendent Fong G. Zuagele. She said the company is currently finalizing the resource drilling at Mt. Gangra which, according to her, will improve confidence in its geology and mining plans.
“A project team has been assembled and included modest levels of recruitment of both expatriates and Liberian locals,” she said.
For the pending operation, the company has engaged an engineering consultant to support all technical aspects that will lead to the smooth operation of the mountain; they include civil engineering, geotechnical designs for road and bridge constructions, mine infrastructure, waste dump drainages as well as sediment controls to keep the waterways healthy.
The mining of Mt. Gangra is expected to start at the end of October, which marks the advent of the dry season and also the completion of the tendering process that is underway for the contractor, Ms. Pearson said.
She said Mt. Gangra has been part of ArcelorMittal’s plan since the onset of the company’s operation in the county, and obtained a license to operate Mt. Gangra as far back as 2005 when the company signed the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with the Liberian government.
Ms. Pearson said the company suspended its operation in 2014 as a result of the Ebola outbreak, a situation that drastically lowered iron ore price margins, which threatened the competitiveness, viability and sustainability of the ArcelorMittal Liberia operation.
As such, the company sought the best solution towards keeping its commitment to Liberia and embarked on a drilling campaign at Mt. Gangra, which accordingly showed 26 million tons of quality iron ore, better than the ore the company was mining at Mount Tokadeh.
“ArcelorMittal Liberia recommenced drilling for Direct Shipped Ore (DSO) resource extensions in late 2015, which confirmed the limited availability of DSO at Tokadeh,” Ms Pearson said. “Once the operation begins we could mine five million tons per annum over the next year.”
According to ArcelorMittal, owing to the depletion of the higher grade ore at Mt. Tokadeh, the company is working on a plan to build a plant to have the remaining ore concentrated before it is shipped, while at the same time mining Mount Gangra.
Prior to the Friday’s press conference, company representatives held a series of discussions with community leaders and citizens who may be affected by Mt. Gangra’s upcoming mining activities.
The citizens have meanwhile been informed about the road networks the company intends to use to transport the ore to Mt. Tokadeh by truck for crushing and loading of wagons for onward railing to the Port of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, where the product would be shipped out of the country.
The opening of a new mine at this time when the price of iron ore is down – the reason why many think ArcelorMittal is opting to deplete all the mountains before leaving Liberia – remains one of the concerns the citizens have raised.
However, Nimba County Superintendent Fong Zuagele warned the citizens against planting cash crops around the operational areas as there will be no compensation for any farms/palntations the company will eventually destroy.
Citizens and residents of Yekapa had been murmuring about ArcelorMittal’s failure to adequately provide their social needs after more than five years of shipping.
The Yekepa Hospital and Vocational Training Center (VTC), which used to be the best in Liberia during the days of Liberia-America Mining Company (LAMCO), are yet to provide the needed services to the people.
During this year’s County Council Sitting, some residents of Yekepa complained about the deplorable state of the hospital, something they said was detrimental to their health.
The mining of a new mountain in the concession area and use of feeder roads to transport ore by trucks raised serious qualms among the citizenry, especially the chiefs, who believe it will pose a serious threat to the movement of residents.