By Constantinos Psillides
Reopening the copper mines in Lefka could prove not only difficult but downright impossible, government experts and industry insiders told the Cyprus Mail, following the break-away regime’s decision to call for an expression of interest for the mines last May.
“Minister” of Environment and Natural Resources Hakan Dinçyürek, reportedly stated on June 5 that his ministry had received a large number of applications from companies, adding that he had set strict rules for its operation.
Interest on the abandoned mine was re-ignited after president Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot community leader Mustafa Akinci announced a set of confidence building measures as an opening for the coming peace talks.
The CBMs included opening more crossings, with Lefka being one of them.
Following the announcement, the Turkish Cypriot agriculture “ministry” called for an expression of interest from companies willing to invest in re-opening the mine, that lies abandoned since the Turkish invasion in 1974.
The copper mines in the area –known as Mavrovouni- were owned by an American company called Cyprus Mines Corporation (CMC) which operated them since 1916. Work came to a sudden halt in 1974 following the Turkish invasion.
The Mavrovouni mines comprised of the mine at Lefka, the one in Skouriotissa and one near Apliki village.
The Lefka mine, along with the processing plant ended up at the other side of the Green Line, unlike the Skouriotissa and Apliki mines. Hellenic Copper Mines took over from CMC and were licensed to operate in 1976 to this day. It is worth noting that in 2012 the mine broke the 50,000 tonnes milestone.
While an ore and possibly gold vein might still lies unearthed, getting it out will pose a great challenge, according to the Geological Survey Department director, Dr. Helen Morisseau.
Dr. Morisseau explains that the years of abandonment have taken their toll on the area, causing widespread pollution.
“That area is basically one big open crater. Since it was abandoned, everything stayed as they were back in 1974. Highly acidic water rich in metals sips into the water, contaminating underground water reserves or even making it to the surface. Heavy metals and chemicals left over from the days when the mine was up and running are also a huge problem. Moreover, the processing plant and all other constructions, including a pier to ship off the ore, are still there left to the elements. Basically, the site is one big polluter,” she said, pointing out that the acidic water has turned the waters near the processing plant a reddish-brown color.
Asked on whether the copper and gold deposits are worth the investment, Dr. Morriseau said that while there is potential the ore deposits are not that significant. “If the war never took place and we kept mining the area uninterrupted we would have depleted the ore deposits some years ago,” she said, stressing once more the difficulty of resuming operation.
“It will be exceedingly difficult for any company to set up operation and begin mining. Im not a business manager but Im guessing that it would take a lot of money to kick-start a mining company,” she explains.
Cyprus Mail talked to an industry insider, that wishes to remain anonymous, who confirmed Dr. Morriseau’s assessment. “Our initial information says that the Turkish Cypriot side estimates the initial investment capital needed at €200 million. That is laughable. By my estimation it will take ten times that amount since it’s just not enough to buy shiny new equipment and start digging. You need a cleanup and a restoration plan for when the deposits are exhausted, an action plan to deal with all the equipment that was left behind, experts on new mining technology, investment in state of the art equipment to ensure maximum efficiency, surveys, on-site reports and a host of other expenses. Setting up a mining operation is not easy, especially when you are called to conduct operation on an existing mining site that is plagued with pollution issues. Believe me, this is not an easy undertaking,” the industry insider said, also agreeing with Dr. Morriseau on her ore deposit assessment.
“Look, there are still ore veins that can turn a profit. But the initial capital needed is very high and the expected margin of profit just doesn’t reflect the risk and the investment.”
But a poor yield and a risky investment is not the cloud in the horizon.
Director of the Mines Service Erotokritos Anastasiades puts yet another brick in the wall of potential issues, pointing out that any company that wishes to operate in the area will be considered illegal by the government.
“If things stay as they are now, we cannot recognise any company that operates in the occupied lands. Companies that wish to be licensed to prospect a mine must come through us and we have absolutely no control or oversight regarding the Lefka mine. Barring a shift in goverment policy we are de facto unable to allow anyone to work the Lefka mine,” said the director.
“We have a very strict process for mine licensing. There numerous permits needed, including of course an environmental impact report. As far as I understand there is a serious pollution issue so I would imagine that things will be more challenging for potential investors,” he said, detailing the procedure that would be followed had the mine been under government control.
“First of all we would demand a clean up and restoration plan to be submitted. The interested party would also be called to provide monetary guarantees that in this case would be considerably high, to ensure that the company will go through with the clean-up and restoration. If our requirements are met then the company can operate the mind and diver some of the profit to the restoration process. Our goal would be to have the area pollution-free once the deposits are depleted,” said the director of the Mines Service, reiterating that setting up a mining operation is not a simple task.
“It takes industry knowledge, it takes money and having the necessary infrastructure on which to built this operation.”
Asked on whether a joint venture with the Cyprus government has been considered as a CBM, Anastasiades said that he had no knowledge of such a development.
A new home for the mine bats
Before being granted a permit to restart copper extraction, the company has been ordered to build a new cave home for the bats that at present inhabit the mine, which is 50 kilometres northwest of Nicosia.
Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis assured Greens MP Giorgos Perdikis, who raised the subject in parliament on March 24, that a new cave for the bats is being created near the Apliki mine to replace their current habitat.
According to an environmental impact report carried out by the environment department, a cave where a number of Rhinolophus blasii (pictured above)and Myotis nattereri bats now live will be destroyed as a result of the renewed mining activity.
Around 56 mouflons will also be displaced from the perimeter zone and the habitat will be degraded.
The department has ordered the company to create a new cave which the bats could use as a habitat and they must ensure that the existing cave is closed off before mining work starts to avoid trapping bats inside.
The company has also been asked to create a new drinking trough for mouflons in the area as the operations will obstruct the animals from reaching the existing ones.
The study has also requested that during the mating period of the Bonelli’s eagles (Aquila fasciata), found in the area, all disturbance should be avoided at a 2km distance from the birds’ nests.