Wednesday, July 6

The tungsten mine in Zamora that threatens the recognition of the largest transboundary Biosphere Reserve in Europe

“The mine is going to dry out everything here. It is wild and our company is in danger.” This is María Duarte, owner of the water bottling plant and the Calabor Spa, in Zamora, in the municipality of Pedralba de la Pradería. After years of investing in one of the first white areas in Europe to build a mineral-medicinal water spa -with ecological and experimental products- and clean waters for years, a tungsten and tin mine in it will put it at risk if it goes ahead.

It will also put at risk the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of part of the Sierra de la Culebra -space protected by the Natura 2000 Network-, and the Montesinho Natural Park due to its proximity, some administrations defend. “The environmental impact is enormous for both man and nature,” summarizes the director of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation Zasnet, Ana Carvalho, who trusts that the authorities will not let the project ‘advance’, although they see “risk “that Unesco withdraws the title.

Almonty, a Canadian multinational has projected through its subsidiary -Valtreixal- an open-air tungsten and tin mine in Zamora, in the Transboundary Biosphere Reserve of the Iberian Peninsula, a recognition granted by Unesco in 2015 and which now threatens this mining project. Calabor, along with other municipalities, is located in the largest cross-border reserve in Europe and the 15th largest in the world, with dozens of initiatives linked to the natural environment and environmental sustainability.

Valtreixal has been behind creating a mine in Calabor for more than ten years, at least. The first time it showed public interest was in 2007, when an announcement was published in the Official Gazette of Castilla y León to request permission to investigate the feasibility of the works in this historic mining area. In Calabor there have been up to three mines at different times, all small underground. This will have nothing to do with it, if not it will look more like the one that this company has already exploited in Los Santos, in Salamanca.

In April 2019 it was submitted to public information in Spain and in August 2020, in Portugal, due to the impact that this mine may have on the aquifers and the Calabor, Sabor rivers and their tributaries on both sides of the border. Ecologists in Action has presented an administrative appeal against the agreement of the territorial service of the Junta in Zamora, still to be resolved. The mayor of Pedralba, Francisco Guerra, points out that the City Council is “open to any proposal”. “Now everything is stopped. It is the Board that is going to decide whether to do it or not. But from the work point of view, this is of interest,” he says.

The Pedralba councilor condemns the graffiti suffered by both the City Council and some parts of the municipality, which said ‘Stop Minas’ or ‘Murder City Council’. The City Council is “open” to all initiatives that generate employment. “Until everything is studied and resolved we are not going to position ourselves, because we do not know anything … If the Environmental Impact Declaration does not pass, what are we going to do?” Asks Guerra.

The former mayor of the municipality “worked a lot” for this mining project to go ahead, explains Guerra. “At least we are going to give it a chance, because there are people who are waiting for the mine to come and if it doesn’t go ahead, they will have to leave,” he says.

19 years of exploitation

The aspiration of the multinational is to exploit the reserves for 19 years, with an estimate of 500,000 tons per year working 24 hours a day in 79 mining grids “There are about 250 hectares requested and about two thousand under study,” explains Duarte, from the platform Stop Calabor Mine, which fears that the tungsten mine will contaminate the waters: “There are two natural springs here, centuries ago there was a spa due to the quality of the water. Without them, we have nothing to do.”

The company, in its Environmental Impact Assessment, recognizes the risk of “affecting the quality of” surface and ground water, although it assures that they would be “low-magnitude and compatible” impacts. In addition to the municipality of Calabor, the streams in the area cross the border to Portugal, five kilometers away. “Several rivers are at risk. We already had other mines in the area in the past and the dump broke and filled the river with sand,” laments Rui Loureiro, spokesman for the Portuguese movement UIVO de Tras os Montes. This association has spoken with representatives of Bragança in parliament and government entities to ensure that it is not approved.

“This is supposed to be in the Natura 2000 Network and that it is untouchable,” adds Duarte. Loureiro summarizes the consequences in three: the conservation of the environment, the quality of life of the people who live in the area and the economy, which “depends a lot” on the environment, either for chestnut production, beekeeping or nature tourism.

“Here there are wolves, deer and other animals. Some young bear ventures from time to time, there is an expectation that he will return … But with twenty trucks a day and explosions, he will never return,” laments the UIVO spokesman.

“Highly polluting and harmful”

The Zasnet European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation, made up of associations of municipalities from the Terra Fría del Nordeste Transmontano, the terra Quente Transmontana, the Municipal Chamber of Bragança, the City Council of Zamora and the Provincial Councils of Salamanca and Zamora has also shown itself against. . In a letter to the representative of Unesco Portugal, Spain and the president of Unesco in Paris, Zasnet warns of the “negative” impacts that this mine can have on the population of the surroundings and the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

“This mine would be highly polluting, highly damaging to ecosystems, highly unfavorable for nature tourism, highly compromising the bases and foundations of the ‘Man and Biosphere’ program that has been awarded the Unesco seal and highly adverse for future activities. de la Zasnet, “he protests.

This European group recalls that the Calabor area is part of the buffer zone of the Biosphere Reserve, where activities “compatible with nature conservation” are allowed, something that is more important because this region is undergoing a pilot project to test “sustainable development models” through cultural heritage, indigenous production, nature and tourism, financed by European funds.

“The mine will suppose a hole, explosives and a huge dump in the Calabor riverbed,” says Cristina Zelich, from Ecologistas en Acción, who reproaches that the Junta de Castilla y León, through Siemcalsa (Sociedad de Investigación y Explitación Minera ) investigate the tin and tungsten reserves in the area and their possible exploitation. “The Board encourages prospecting in areas that are protected, it is nonsense,” he criticizes.

An environmental impact study that mentions coal or wind power

While many residents in the area are protesting, the company presents its Environmental Impact Assessment, in which it is not clear whether they want to install a tungsten and tin mine, a coal mine or a wind farm. Because depending on which chapter you choose, there are some methodologies or others. “In this section, the climatic characterization of the area where the wind farm will be executed is carried out, in order to know the variables that determine the ecological processes that can occur in the area”, says the multinational in its Evaluation.

At another point, he talks about the “compatible” impacts that the operation of machinery and trucks “that transport the coal” outwards will suppose; although the mine in question is made of tungsten and tin, not coal. “It’s ridiculous, there are too many mistakes,” says Loureiro.

From Ecologists in Action they emphasize that it has been written “without too much rigor”. “It looks like a copy and paste and they have forgotten to delete some references”, says Valentín Sesma, member of Ecologists and responsible for the webStop Mina Sanabria‘. But these are not the only ‘lapses’ that appear in the study. “They talk about the grouse when there is no grouse here,” Sesma exemplifies.

It is still necessary to know what the Junta de Castilla y León thinks about it, which will have the last word. Meanwhile, many residents of the area advocate “not giving up.” “I would like to ensure that at least there is no mine while I live,” concludes one of the spokespersons for the Stop Mina platform in Calabor. The next appointment to reject en bloc this tungsten and tin mine will be on July 4.