Santiago, Jan 18 (EFE).- Chile’s government gave a thumbs down Wednesday to a proposed $2.5 billion iron ore and copper mine near the habitat of 80 percent of the world’s population of Humboldt penguins.
The panel of five Cabinet ministers charged with reviewing the project “unanimously decided to accept the 12 objections and therefore, remain with an unfavorable evaluation of the Dominga mining port project,” Environment Minister Maisa Rojas said.
She and her counterparts from the ministries of health, mining, agriculture, energy and economy made a judgment “based on technical evidence” about the threat the project posed to marine life and the quality of water and air in the vicinity, she said.
Andes Iron hoped to build a mine and shipping terminal 16 km (9.9 mi) from La Higuera in the northern region of Coquimbo, provoking alarm among conservationists concerned about the potential effects on the nearby Humboldt Penguin National Reserve.
“The port we are discussing is in a place with an absolutely unique ecological value,” Rojas said. “There are deep water upswellings with nutrients that are the base for an entire, very unique chain of life.”
Both Rojas and President Gabriel Boric were opponents of Dominga even before the current center-left government took office in March 2022.
Wednesday’s announcement is just the latest in a series of setbacks the project has faced over the last decade, though Andes Iron can challenge the decision in court.
Advocates of Dominga say it would bring economic growth to La Higuera, one of Chile’s poorest municipalities.
The controversy extends beyond environmental considerations, as the Pandora Papers revealed in 2021 that the family of Sebastian Piñera, then in his second term as president, once held a majority stake in Dominga.
Investigative journalists also found that when the billionaire Piñera sold his stake in Dominga in 2010 to friend and business partner Carlos Alberto Delano, the final payment was made conditional on the government’s not increasing environmental protection in the area.
Environmentalists and groups representing fishermen and other residents of La Higuera welcomed Wednesday’s decision.
“We hope that to this rejection by the government is added the declaration of the entire Humboldt Archipelago as a protected area that allows for the definitive defense of this ecosystem from the ambition and corruption that surrounded the creation of this project,” Greenpeace Chile director Matias Asun said.
Oceana Chile likewise called on the government to impose a complete ban on high-impact industry in the area.
“It has been more than 15 years of living under threats, first with the near installation of three coal-fired thermoelectric plants, then the Cruz Grande port and now Dominga. We’re tired and we need to live tranquilly knowing that we are protected,” Lucia Ossandon, leader of the Changa Juana Vergara y Familia indigenous community, told reporters.
“Once and for all, we want this firm to leave our territory, it has already caused too much damage. We want to continue with our sustainable work and continue being the leaders in artisanal fishing in north-central Chile,” said Gabriel Molina, head of the Los Choros Fishing Association. EFE mmm-ssb/dr