Chilean court agrees to study new appeal against Pascua-Lama

SANTIAGO Fri Oct 11, 2013 4:53pm EDT

SANTIAGO Oct 11 (Reuters) - A Chilean appeals court has agreed to examine a fresh appeal against Barrick Gold Corp's suspended Pascua-Lama gold mine that says the controversial project is hurting the environment and the quality of life for the local population.

The country's Supreme Court and environmental regulator have already frozen construction of the mine due to "significant environmental harm." The suspension is poised to be lifted once a water management system is complete.

The local Antofagasta Court of Appeals would look at the new appeal, a spokesman for Chile's court system said on Friday.

However, it is not yet clear when it might issue a decision or how it might rule.

Barrick declined to comment. The lawyer who presented the appeal could not immediately be reached for comment.

The latest action against the roughly $8.5 billion project, originally forecast to produce 800,000 to 850,000 ounces of gold per year, comes just weeks after the Supreme Court rejected a move to strike down the mine's environmental permit.

A group of indigenous Chileans had asked the top court to rescind Barrick's license, arguing that environmental damage from the mine, which straddles the Chilean and Argentine border, warranted a re-evaluation of the project.

Pascua-Lama's supporters say its environmental impact will be limited, and that the massive mine will provide employment and help boost copper powerhouse Chile's mining-dependent economy.

Environmental and social groups counter that the mega mining project will damage pristine glaciers, strain and pollute the water supply and harm agricultural activity in the area.

Barrick has stopped construction on the project and submitted a plan for water management infrastructure to the SMA. The miner said in June that Pascua-Lama, on which it has already spent $5.4 billion, had been delayed until mid-2016.

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