August 7, 2019 / 9:46 AM / 12 days ago

After protests, Alamos CEO defends Turkish mine project against 'misinformation'

ANKARA, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Canada-based Alamos Gold has pre-paid for the reforestation at its mine project in western Turkey, its chief executive told Reuters amid growing criticism, adding that it was impossible for cyanide to leak into the environment as protesters fear.

Thousands of Turks and opposition lawmakers staged a protest Monday in the Canakkale province against what they say will be pollution from the Alamos project, and said the firm cut down more trees than it had declared and would use cyanide, contaminating water in the region.

In an interview late on Tuesday in Ankara, the Alamos CEO John McCluskey said the protests against his company's project near the town of Kirazli were politically-motivated "misinformation."

The area at the site now largely stripped of trees would begin to return to its previous state after the six years envisaged for the project, he added.

"We've already paid for it. What you have to appreciate is that as part of the forestry permit, we have paid about $5 million for those permits. A big component of that fee is to pay for reforestation," McCluskey said, adding that only government authorities were allowed to cut trees, not the company.

"In six and a half years, the whole focus of this area will be to replant. And in a decade, maybe a bit more than that, it will look like a forest again," he said.

Critics of the project fear that the mine's use of cyanide will harm the ecological structure of the area and contaminate the soil and water near the Atikhisar dam in the region.

McCluskey, however, said cyanide would only be used in the final step of the mining process to extract the gold, and that the company had taken measures to ensure that there would not be any leaks into the environment. He said the mine's operations would not impact the watershed.

"Not only do we make that impossible, if we didn't make that impossible we shouldn't even start because by the time you've added the cyanide to the process it's because there is gold there. And if you lose the cyanide, you lose the gold," he said.

"We have one impervious membrane and underneath that is another impervious membrane. In between the two layers, we have a leak detection system. If it should ever happen, before it gets to the other layer, we'll know," McCluskey told Reuters.

In a two-hour interview on the sidelines of meetings in Ankara, McCluskey said it was impossible for the mine to effect the dam because the mining solution would have to flow uphill to reach a separate watershed.

"In order to say something otherwise, they just have to lie," he said when asked about the claims of protest leaders.

CLAIMS OF POLITICAL AGENDA

Major construction projects by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's government have drawn harsh backlash over the years, with 2013 protests over a project to demolish Istanbul's Gezi Park growing to nationwide anti-government unrest that prompted a violent security crackdown and hundreds of arrests.

Earlier this year, students in Ankara protested against plans to cut down hundreds of trees to build a dorm on a school campus. The government says these projects support the economy, which had been driven for years by a construction boom that ended in last year's currency crisis and recession.

Asked about the thousands of protesters near Alamos' mining site, McCluskey said the demonstrations were a political attack aimed at creating unrest.

"It is a very cynical thing to say, but I believe that this whole attack is essentially just an environmental cloak that is being put over what is really a deep political agenda," he said.

"What I've never experienced in the past is where there has been very deliberate misinformation about this project that is being published in an effort to get very rapidly a very emotive social media response," McCluskey added. (Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Birsen Altayli in KIRAZLI, Turkey; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

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