Chile environment court questions Norte Abierto mine impact on indigenous neighbors

SANTIAGO, April 21 (Reuters) - A Chilean environmental court said on Wednesday it had ordered a fresh evaluation of the Norte Abierto gold and copper mining project due to concern that heavy traffic and water usage could disrupt life for the nearby indigenous community.

The complex, situated in the northern Atacama region, was created in 2017 following merging of the separate Cerro Casale mine owned by Barrick, and Caspiche mine owned by Newmont Goldcorp], into a joint venture.

The court said it had decided to look again at the venture because of fears it could “significant alter” the way of life and customs of the Colla indigenous community living in the Jorquera River valley and along its tributaries.

“There is an clear overlap between this project and the lands and activities of the Colla community,” wrote the court’s Judge Mauricio Oviedo in a statement accompanying the decision.

Oviedo added there was a “high probability” the project could cause disturbances in the indigenous community “since it is located in their territories, in the place where they carry out seasonal grazing activities and the collection of medicinal herbs, among other things.”

The Norte Abierto complex was previously approved in 2019 following the submission of an Environmental Impact Statement, which seeks authorization to make minor modifications to projects.

But the works, which include the drilling of 334 boreholes and construction of roads through ancestral lands, required a more extensive study, the court said.

The Norte Abierto project has proven and probable reserves of 23.2 million ounces of gold and 5.8 billion pounds of copper, according to company data.

The company had previously said it would consolidate the projects into a new Environmental Impact Study after updating its geological model.

Neither Barrick nor Newmont Goldcorp immediately responded to requests for comment. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by David Gregorio)