Mining company responsible for reduction of Patagonia National Park in environmental trouble

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By Patricio Segura
Translation by Graham Dane
On February 25, the Chilean government’s environmental supervisory body (SMA) asked Southern Gold, a subsidiary of Australia’s Equus Mining, to respond to charges that it carried out exploration at a priority biodiversity conservation site, Estepas Jenimeni-Lagunas de Bahia Jara, without a required environmental impact assessment.
Southern Gold is the same company which prior to the official establishment of Patagonia National Park in Chile’s Aysen region conducted an intense lobbying campaign to keep the area where it had mining concessions out of lands previously allotted for the new national park.
The former center-left Chile President Michelle Bachelet had included the area in question in the original park plan, which her government referred to the Comptroller General’s office for adjudication, but that was subsequently revoked by the center-right President Sebastián Piñera government which in December 2018 decided to exclude that area from the park.
In parallel, in November 2018, three regional organizations sounded the alarm at the activities of the company and the government by filing a formal complaint to the SMA. The organizations stated that the mining company had evaded the environmental impact assessment regulations which call for submitting to evaluation any activity that potentially can have an impact on the environment inside “national parks, national reserves, national monuments, pristine territory reserves, natural sanctuaries, marine parks, marine reserves or any other areas placed under official protection, where permitted by law.”
The arguments were put forth by the Corporation for the Development of Aysén, the Aisén Reserve for Life Coalition, and the Costa Carrera Corporation were accepted by the SMA and confirmed in a report by its own environmental assessment office. They emphasize that priority sites for biodiversity conservation must be considered among the “areas placed under official protection.”
Among the reasons for the decision is Chile’s National Register of Protected Areas identifies as belonging to the category of “other designations” those sites whose “conservation is a priority in the framework of the National Biodiversity Strategy and whose status, in addition, is important for the environmental impact evaluation system.”
Furthermore, the official Aysén Biodiversity Plan includes Estepas Jeinimeni-Lagunas de Bahía Jara under the heading “Priority 1” as a “fragile ecosystem chosen for its biodiversity value” and  constituting “one of the natural areas of greater importance in terms of the biodiversity and level of protection of the ecosystems of the Aysén region, harboring an ecosystem that is highly unusual and not typical of those at the regional or national level.”
And in June 2016 the Comptroller General’s office declared that wetlands designated as priority sites conservation “constitute areas placed under official protection for the purposes of paragraph (p) of Article 10 of the Environmental Framework Act,” which was signed by the office of the Environmental Assessment Service on August 17, 2016.
This situation led the SMA to conclude that the company “Southern Gold had carried out its project on the mineral deposits located in the El Ceballo-Quebrada Honda sector in the district of Chile Chico, within the Priority Site of Conservation of Biodiversity Estepas Jenimeni-Lagunas de Bahia Jara without having a favorable environmental impact assessment, in spite of falling within paragraph (p) of Article 3 of the SEIA Regulations.” Therefore it ordered the company to give an explanation for this within 15 working days of notification.
Meanwhile, the organizations which filed the complaint are taking action to ensure that these illegal activities of the company will be subject to criminal proceedings.
These proceedings initiated by the SMA against the mining company is in addition to another in March 2019 that is still ongoing. It also concerns the circumvention of the Chile’s environmental laws, the company is said to have installed 19 exploration platforms in Aysén without an environmental impact assessment.

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