Yamana near Agua Rica approval, still mulls options

TORONTO, March 23 (Reuters) - Yamana Gold YRI.TO is in the final stages of getting environmental approval for its Agua Rica copper-gold project in Argentina's Catamarca province, but the company has still not decided how it will proceed with its plans for the property, a spokesman said on Monday.

Yamana acquired Agua Rica when it took over Northern Orion Resources in 2007, but Yamana Chief Executive Peter Marrone has said the company will likely not build the mine by itself, but will instead consider other options, including taking on a partner at some point.

However, Yamana is getting close to the point where it could develop the mine if it wanted to, as an environmental impact study filed in July 2007 has been returned to the company for its approval. It will then go back to the province for a final green light.

“Both parties have to approve it. It’s just a normal course of negotiations,” said spokesman Hugh Mansfield.

“Our position on this project remains unchanged and we continue to believe in its long-term strategic merits”,” he said.

The property, which has defined inventory of 21.8 billion pounds of copper and 13.3 million ounces of gold, sits close to Xstrata Plc's XTA.L Alumbrera mine, in which Yamana owns a minority stake.

Marrone has said it would make sense for Agua Rica to be development in conjunction with Alumbrera.

Yamana’s local unit that has been working on the project said last week it will lay off some workers and temporarily slow work on the project due to weak economic conditions and low copper prices. (Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Rob Wilson)