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RMG was granted permission to mine gold in Mushevan without community review of the revised EIA and disregarding public opinion

According to information obtained by the Social Justice Center, the National Environment Agency made an environmental decision allowing the establishment of a gold mine near the village of Mushevan on November 1 in violation of the law's procedures and standards. Notably, the Agency did not ensure the participation of local ethnic minorities. Furthermore, in contravention of the law, the Agency also ignored and disregarded the comments given by our organization and field expert. Social Justice Center will thus seek an appeal against the National Environment Agency's judgment.

The village of Mushevani is located 14 kilometers from the administrative center of Bolnisi Municipality, and 99.9% of its population comprises of ethnic Azerbaijani. About 1,000 people live in the village; however, it still lacks such basic infrastructure as drinking water, natural gas, internal village roads, irrigation system. Furthermore, there are no kindergartens in the village.

Working equipment has already been spotted in the village of Mushevani, and according to the EIA document, mineral extraction would be undertaken 808 meters from the village using an open pit extraction method. The process will require one to two explosions per week, and ore will be transported nonstop, 24 hours a day. In addition, large-scale infrastructure development is planned for the area surrounding the village. The proposed development includes creating a manufacturing area, service personnel office, equipment parking lot, and access roads, among other features. In addition, a 25.7-hectare landfill for waste rock will be located close to the quarry.

We would like to inform the public that the current plan calls for open-pit gold and copper mining activities for the next six years; however, the company can propose an extension of both this period and the mining area. The current environmental impact decision only covers 11.27 hectares, whereas the total area of the mining property, as defined by the license, includes 175.8 hectares. Therefore, based on the study and reserve specifications, the company is permitted to request the issuance of new permits for the area in question.

Residents are concerned that mining will substantially impact their community owing to its scope. Even more so, as the experience of open-pit mineral extraction in Georgia demonstrates, this activity is connected with severe implications for the environment and the local population: in addition to health problems, soil degradation posed by mining carries the risk of loss of income. In light of this, the local populace should have been well briefed on the risks and appropriate mitigation measures, and their reasonable concerns should have been satisfactorily addressed, bearing in mind the language barrier.


In addition, as is evident from the evaluation of the EIA report provided by Green Alternative, an environmental expert, and, most significantly, the National Environment Agency itself, the company's documentation contained several fundamental flaws, including the following: [1]

Because the total licensing area is substantially greater than the area on which the environmental assessment was conducted, the cumulative impact of anticipated future mining and planned mining on the environment is disregarded in the evaluation. Moreover, the total mining area belonging to RMG within the scope of the considered license is 175.8 hectares; Consequently, this type of fragmented evaluation, which includes just 11.27 hectares at this moment, does not permit for a complete understanding of the situation and the comprehensive analyses of anticipated impact.

In the EIA report, the project alternatives, including the no-action (zero) alternative, were not adequately considered. In the initial version of the EIA report, the company notes, when discussing the zero alternative of the project, that "refusal to extract minerals, i.e., zero alternative, means that the license holder refuses to perform the activities provided for by the license, which is in violation of the terms of the license and will result in a fine." Moreover, the company states that since the license has already been awarded, "the prospect of developing the Mushevani 2 gold-copper deposit for other purposes is effectively limited in the event of non-implementation of the activity (zero alternative)". This approach contradicts the spirit of the EIA system when, because the license already exists, the possibility of refusing the activity and, thus, the refusal of the environmental decision is immediately ruled out.

Neither the company's EIA nor the offered supplemental material are mitigation measures for the impact of drilling and blasting on the fauna described.

The Agency disregarded the environmental expert's and our organization's comments on the EIA provided by the company, in violation of the law.

The Environmental Assessment Code of Georgia specifies that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the proposed activity be made public and interested members of the public be given the opportunity to supply feedback. In addition, the permit-issuing authority is required to assess and, "where there is an appropriate basis," consider the opinions presented by the public.

On September 21, the Agency released the additional documentation supplied by the company to the environmental impact assessment report and set October 17 as the deadline for receiving public feedback. Per the deadline, our organization delivered our's and environmental expert Mamuka Ghilava's substantial remarks on additional documentation on October 17. [2]  However, the Agency stated in the environmental judgment that "given that the deadline for public comment submission was set for October 17, late submissions were not considered."

This is in light of the fact that the Ministry's 25-day deadline is completely arbitrary. Furthermore, the Code establishes a 40-day limit for submitting comments on the EIA report, and the Code does not recognize the institution of "commenting" on additional documentation supplied to the EIA.

The company obtained a positive environmental permit even though it did not fully consider the Agency's guidance regarding the necessity for enhanced public involvement.

In response to the company's submission of the environmental impact assessment report to the National Environment Agency on August 8 of this year, the Agency notified the company of a list of problems that were not addressed in the EIA and any associated documentation and needed to be clarified. According to our evaluation, the company failed to adequately consider the mentioned comments, including the recommendation for enhanced public engagement, which should have resulted in the Agency's negative environmental decision.

In the aforementioned letter, the Agency instructed the corporation that increased communication with the population residing in the mining influence zone was required. However, despite the unequivocal directive from the permitting authority, the company stated in a response letter that "there is no need for further engagement with the community at this time." In circumstances where the company blatantly disregarded and refused to comply with the directives of the competent public Agency, the Agency's environmental decision was unacceptable, particularly when the company disregarded such a crucial matter as communication with the impacted community.

As stated, the intended extraction area is predominantly inhabited by Azerbaijanis, a fact that was not adequately considered during the implementation of participation mechanisms. More specifically, according to the information provided by the population, only 70 of the villagers out of 600 permanent residents (approximate statistics) attended the public discussion, and the notice about the general discussion was only posted in Georgian. Furthermore, according to the locals, a single interpreter at the discussion was insufficient to guarantee the complete transfer of information to them. In addition, RMG did not provide the people with an environmental assessment report translated into the minority language or at least a non-technical summary of said report. In this instance, the people affected by the project only received verbal information and had no opportunity to clarify or confirm the problems of interest and concerns in writing. It is only reasonable that this behavior be viewed as a flagrant violation of the Aarhus Convention and international laws governing the rights of minorities.

It is important to note that, despite existing hurdles, the populace, from the outset, attempted to voice their ideas and contact the appropriate agencies. Notably, following the publication of the EIA report on July 22, the residents of the village of Mushevani submitted their comments (signed by 188 individuals) indicating a critical stance towards the proposed activity within the Agency's deadline.

In addition, as a result of the Agency's disregard for their comments, in September of this year, the population sent an additional petition (signed by 90 individuals) to the Parliament, President, and Prime Minister of Georgia, requesting that they consider the village's stance in the deliberation process.

The Agency's suspension of the ongoing procedure for the environmental decision on August 8 should have been followed by the update of the EIA report and its re-public review; however, this was not the case, and the Agency issued a favorable judgment with numerous concessions.

Additionally, we should emphasize that in a letter dated August 8, the National Environment Agency alerted the corporation to several significant problems in the environmental impact assessment report it had submitted. RMG submitted additional new documentation to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report in response to the Agency's comments. In the supplementary document, fundamental problems such as discussion of the project's no-action (zero) alternative, impact on ecosystems, flora, and fauna in the project region, cleaning-use of quarry waters, and reclamation of the fertile soil layer were outlined. Consequently, the actions envisioned by the "Environmental Assessment Code" following the submission of the EIA report, such as the public review of the updated report, had to be redone.

A report reexamining was necessary to provide the community with complete information regarding the project's features and impacts, especially in light of the problems highlighted during the initial phase. Despite this, the Agency disregarded the request and issued an environmental decision on the updated EIA without having a public hearing as required by Georgian law.

In light of these circumstances, it is evident that the lack of population engagement in the decision-making process before the EIA procedure is no less problematic than the deficiencies revealed in the implementation of the procedures outlined in the Environmental Assessment Code. Therefore, we would like to clarify that issuing a mineral exploitation license precedes initiating the EIA procedure. In this instance, the license for the Mushevan deposit was awarded in 2011, but in May of last year, significant adjustments were made, and reserves were specified. However, the local population was neither informed nor formally participating in the decision-making process. This method of organizing licensing and decision-making leads to situations in which individuals are unaware of and unable to influence decisions that profoundly impact their living environment and way of life. In addition, an environmental expert's on-site inspection of the land revealed that the research activities that have been ongoing since 2017 under the terms of the license had caused severe environmental damage. Nonetheless, the basis of environmental assessment is that it must be conducted before the occurrence of the impact. Consequently, the EIA assessment and community involvement must occur as soon as possible when the activity is still in the planning phase, and there is still an opportunity to evaluate alternatives in depth.

In light of the foregoing, we believe it is essential that the legislation governing the licensing and EIA procedure be integrated to jointly ensure, on the one hand, that the interests of the affected population are properly considered and, on the other hand, that environmental risks are mitigated, and negative impacts are prevented.

We believe that the processes taking place in Mushevan are indicative of a larger problematic tendency in the country, in which the implementation of large economic projects disregards environmental and social concerns, and the conformity of these projects with public interests is unclear. Oftentimes, the local community suffers from the severe environmental impacts created by the project, while the activities benefit small groups; therefore, the cost-effectiveness of such projects for the state is not entirely justified.

In light of this, the Social Justice Centre will appeal the environmental decision that was made in violation of the law and will continue to work towards establishing a fair economic and environmental policy in the nation.

The visual of the announcement was prepared within the framework of the project "Sustainable and democratic management of water and mineral resources in Georgia," which is implemented with the support of the Tbilisi office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

On September 21, the agency released the additional documentation supplied by the company to the environmental impact assessment report and set October 17 as the deadline for the public to comment. In accordance with the deadline, our organization delivered our and environmental expert Mamuka Ghilava's substential remarks on additional documentation on October 17. However, the agency states in the environmental judgment that "given that the deadline for public comment submission was set for October 17, the agency did not consider late submissions."


Footnote and Bibliography

Footnotes and bibliography:

[1] The critical evaluation of the EIA document and additional information prepared by the company can be found in detail in the attached documents.

[2] According to Article 94 of the Georgian General Administrative Code, the rule established by Articles 59-69 of the Georgian Code of Civil Procedure is applied to assess the duration of administrative proceedings. According to Article 61, Part 2 of the Civil Procedure Code, if the last day of the term falls on a weekend or holiday, the next first working day of the term must be regarded the term's end date. Due to the fact that the agency's deadline of October 16 was on a holiday, the actual deadline for the submission was October 17.

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