The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the weekend completed consultations with residents of towns and villages expected to be affected by the Mount Gangra project in Nimba County, the agency said in a release.
The release said EPA Deputy Executive Director Urias Goll told the participants that the consultative forum was not about giving ArcelorMittal permit to operate the mountain, but to rather table what the company had written for project affected communities to see, discuss and understand so that together, the residents and the EPA can reach a decision.
Mr. Goll said the meeting was about economic development and biodiversity sustainability, adding that the EPA had come to listen to stories from the affected communities, instead of telling them what to say or do in the process, the release indicated.
Mr. Goll 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 about the Mt. Gangra project.
For his part, Arcelor Mittal Chief Operations Officer Kent McCurren said the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia in 2014, and the universal collapse in the price of iron ore created some financial problems for the company.
He said the company was transitioning from Mt. Tokadeh to Mt. Gangra, “because Mt. Gangra has Direct Shipping Ore (DSO), which could stabilize the situation in the operation of the company.”
Mr. McCurren said the company will repair the road connecting nearby communities. The repairs will commence when management approves the construction and materials to be used, he said.
The road construction, according to Mr. McCurren, would last for four months from March to April 2017, with all safety measures in place.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, Nimba County Development Engineer Joseph Torlon, who proxied for County Superintendent Fong Zuagele, described ArcelorMittal as a development partner in Liberia.
Mr. Torlon said 90 percent of the US$1.5 million that the county is using for its development programs is provided by ArcelorMittal through its annual social development fund.
The Nimba Legislative Caucus was represented by Representative Larry P. Yonquoi of County Electoral District #8, who pleaded with ArcelorMittal management to construct permanent roads with concrete bridges for its operations.
Yonquoi stressed the need for a policy change, wherein ArcelorMittal will directly give the 20 percent of the social development fund to affected communities instead of the county administration.
“I will elevate the discussion with the County Legislative Caucus. We will not leave the people in the same condition we met them in when we were elected in 2011,” Rep. Yongquoi said.
According to the release, Arcelor Mittal had conducted environmental studies, which were submitted to the EPA, and subsequently requested the agency to grant it environmental permit to operate Mt. Gangra and construct a haul road. The haul road could adversely impact some towns and villages during and after the construction and use, to include dust particles, vibration, biodiversity destruction, community dwellers’ safety during the hauling period, among others.
The forum brought together representatives of relevant line ministries and agencies including those from Lands, Mines and Energy, Forestry Development Authority, civil society organizations, the county administration, and the Nimba Legislative Caucus.