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Controversial Dominga mining project gets environmental license

Coquimbo Region’s environmental commission has approved the Dominga project. Previously, the same body had rejected the iron ore-copper project. The commission greenlighted the mine under certain conditions, which remain publicly unknown, however.

The environmental commission of Coquimbo Region has approved with 11:1 votes the Dominga iron ore-copper mining project. But the Supreme Court also needs to issue a ruling before construction can begin.

Having been rejected in 2017, owner Andes Iron filed a successful appeal with the Antofagasta environmental court. The environmental commission has approved the project under certain, still secret conditions.

Andes Iron is a joint stock company controlled by the Délano family. Dominga involves two open-pit mines planned to produce 12Mt/y of iron ore and 150,000t/y of copper in concentrates.

Three underground pipelines would connect the mine to a megaport, planned at La Higuera, near the ecologically unique Humboldt Archipelago.

The archipelago comprises eight islands and islets which are among the world’s top 14 biodiversity locations. The area is home to about 80% of the Humboldt penguin population, for which a reserve was created. 

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Strong opposition to Dominga has arisen over environmental concerns, which is why it was rejected in 2017 by the environmental commission and the ministerial committee of the Environmental Assessment Service.

But Andes Iron claimed the rejection was illegal. The issue even reached the Supreme Court.

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A ‘black day’ for the environment

Ocean protection NGO Oceana said it was a “black day” for Chile’s environment, and Greenpeace Chile said the decision was “scandalous” since it is “a disastrous project” for one “of the most important places of biodiversity on the planet.”

Christian Democratic presidential candidate Yasna Povoste tweeted Dominga was “incompatible with the socio-environmental model” she is promoting. Her socialist counterpart, Paula Narváez, said this project “is a mistake that it will cost us dearly.”

Gabriel Boric, who is running for left-wing Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity) list, said governing coalition “Chile Vamos and the right are doing irreparable damage by allowing the Dominga mining project to continue.” Chile Vamos candidate Sebastián Sichel has not commented.

Universidad de Valparaíso marine biologist Maritza Sepúlveda was quoted as saying by news outlet Cooperativa that Dominga is “a mockery of everything that has been tried, of scientific knowledge that has been provided, all the social pressure from the communities for trying to protect the Humboldt Archipelago.”

Protests erupted in the cities of Coquimbo, La Serena, Valparaíso and Santiago.

Citizen support

Andes Iron’s  corporate affairs manager Francisco Villalon told CNN Chile that this “is a project that has broad citizen support” and that Dominga will become a “green mining project.”

Sergio Alvares, head of the Ciudadanos por Dominga association hailed the approval and promised to “start working with more people in the community.”

 

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