As part of its mandate to protect the environment and biodiversity, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Liberia at the weekend held a multi-stakeholder consultation on a request from ArcelorMittal for the operation of a new mountain in Nimba County. Steel giant ArcelorMittal recently applied to the EPA for an environmental permit to extract iron ore from Mt. Gangra, a virgin mountain situated west of Mount Nimba near Yekepa.
The application for a permit, the conduct of an environmental and social impact assessment study and the conduct of a stakeholder dialogue are prerequisites for the granting of an environmental permit by the EPA, Alloycious David, EPA’s media consultant said.
Earthtime, an independent environmental consultant headed by Wassim Hamdan, a geologist, conducted the environmental and social impact assessment study for ArcelorMittal. The company is expected to start mining Mount Gangra for iron ore at the end of October, if its proposal is approved by the EPA. A tendering process is also underway for the contractor, an executive of ArcelorMittal disclosed.
Mount Gangra has been part of ArcelorMittal’s plan from the outset of its operations in Liberia, with the company obtaining a license to operate on the mountain in 2005.
Yarmein District Commissioner Thomas Gonotee described ArcelorMittal as Liberia’s true development partner. In a welcome statement he said almost all the money used to develop Nimba County was provided by ArcelorMittal through its social development fund. According to the concession’s 25-year Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) signed with the government of Liberia, the company is paying US$1.5 million annually to Nimba County.
EPA deputy executive director, Urias S. Goll, said the multi-stakeholder dialogue was not solely for the purpose of granting an environmental permit to ArcelorMittal. He told citizens who would be affected that the meeting was intended to get their input on what is contained in the environmental and social impact assessment study conducted by Earthtime. According to him, the decision to grant an environmental permit to ArcelorMittal will be collectively done by the EPA and local communities.
Mr. Goll noted that the decision will not all be about economic development, but will also consider the management, conservation and protection of the environment and biodiversity. The EPA deputy boss made it emphatically clear that the agency had come to listen to the decisions of the affected communities and not to tell them what to say or do. He encouraged the affected communities to voice their concerns and make recommendations where necessary to inform the EPA, urging them to ask questions for better understanding of the project.
EPA’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) assistant manager Aloysius K. Kotee disclosed that his department was established to assess projects being undertaken by concessions and other companies so that they don’t negatively impact the environment. Mr. Kotee described the EPA as a mother of twins, who is breastfeeding the company with information and also breastfeeding the district with information while playing a listening role. ArcelorMittal’s environmental manager Alvin Poure assured the people of Nimba that the company will do everything possible to provide them the necessary benefits when the mine becomes operational. He promised that the company would provide 1,120 jobs.
The stakeholder consultations was attended by line government ministries and agencies including Lands, Mines and Energy, Forestry Development Authority (FDA), civil society organizations, representatives of the local county administration and residents of towns and villages that are expected to be affected by the mining project.