Sala Primera agrees to rule on appeal over Crucitas mine

The mine site is about four hours north of San José. Industrias Infinito S.A./A.M. Costa Rica graphic

The Sala Primera has agreed to hear the appeals of a lower court decision against the Las Crucitas mine. The appeals accepted were from the government, the gold mining firm Industrias Infinito S.A. and the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación, which support the mine. Also accepted were appeals from Asocrucitas, a group that opposes the mine.

The appeals were varied and the court did not accept all of them. Appeals from a number of citizens were rejected because the court decided they lacked standing.

The appeals are of the decision by the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo, which last Nov. 24 ordered the central government to cancel the mineral concession held by Infinito.

At stake is an estimated 1.2 million ounces of gold. The market price Wednesday was about $1.9 billion. The government was pushing the project as a way to bring economic growth into the area, which is the extreme northern sector of the province of Alajuela.

Infinito said on its Web page that it had not been notified formally of the decision. The court has three weeks from the time the last litigant has been notified to render a final decision. However, further court appeals are possible.

The Sala Primera made the decision shortly after noon Tuesday. The decision was long awaited.

The mine has been subject to protests and strong criticism. Earlier last year the Sala IV constitutional court looked over the Crucitas project and gave it the green light. But opponents quickly filed an action in the Tribunal Contencioso Administrativo, which evaluated actions of the government.

Opponents claim that the open pit mining process will put cyanide into the environment.

As part of the lower court decision, the chief judge, Eduardo González Segura, encouraged prosecutors to examine the role former president Óscar Arias Sánchez had in the project. Arias issued a decree that said the mining project was in the national interest. This gave the company latitude to, among other things, cut endangered trees. The court also said the role of the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental should be examined, too.

Infinito fired most of the workers at the mine site after the decision was issued.

Protesters were darlings of the media. Some went on hunger strikes at Casa Presidencial and then hiked to the mine site in northern Costa Rica.

Some opponents have criticized the government for siding with the mining company on the appeal, but generally the nation’s lawyers have to defend decisions made by the government. In this case the decision was to grant the firm a permit.

The government also estimated that Infinito, the subsidiary of a Canadian firm, will bring a successful action in international arbitration that may cost the country as much as $70 million.

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