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Interview with Environmental and Social Manager Armen Stepanyan

Geoteam CJSC is the daughter company of Lydian International limited a British Company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Canada.

-Armen, before we start why don’t you tell us something about yourself and about the Company you work for?

I am an Environmental Scientist with a Bachelor in Chemical Engineering, a Masters in Environmental Engineering, a PhD in Engineering and an MBA majoring in finance. Prior to commencing work with Lydian I worked with the Center for Ecological and Noosphere Studies (CENS) of the National Academy of Sciences of RA as a senior researcher and Head of Central Analytical Laboratory. I also worked for the Armenian Nuclear Regulatory Authority as a Senior Specialist in radioactive waste management. During the years in CENS I was involved in different projects funded by CRDF, UNDP and NATO.

I joined Lydian in 2007 as Environmental and Social Manager. Lydian places major emphasis on corporate transparency and responsible development with care for environment and local communities being of utmost importance. I am part of the Corporate Management Team and my role is to ensure that development and environment are cared for equally and that our presence materially and sustainably benefits the communities we affect. I also report to environmental and social specialists from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) a member of the World Bank and Lydian’s largest shareholder. Amulsar is a brand new discovery so we have an ideal opportunity to develop it responsibly and set a good example.    

What types of environmental monitoring programs are currently being conducted on site? What are the overall weather and natural conditions of Amulsar?

We started environmental monitoring in 2007 with analyses of surface waters in surrounding rivers. Over time the program was complemented with sampling of ground waters, air (including dust concentration), soil, and noise and biodiversity studies. All our environmental and social programs, activities and measures, are agreed with IFC’s respective departments and are up to best international practices. Today, we handle a broad and expanding database. It serves as a basis for the Bankable Feasibility Study (BFS) and Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), which are currently in progress and being conducted by UK-based consultants Wardell Armstrong International.  The ESIA is prepared according to local and international standards and best practices. It is run in parallel with the BFS in order to include all preventive and risk mitigation measures for planned activities.

As to natural conditions, summer at Amulsar is cool and brief, and the winter is long, with heavy snowfalls.

Have you already defined the method of future ore extraction?

 Not entirely, this depends on the feasibility study we are currently conducting but it is likely to be an open-pit mine. During the design process we are considering all the necessary environmental control and risk preventive methods to avoid and minimize impact. There are no trees at Amulsar which of course immediately minimizes impact.

Open-pit mining increases exposure of surrounding territories to dust pollution. How are you going to manage it?

Dust is generated during production and the major part of this dust recedes within a very limited perimeter and within the first kilometre around the development site. Another protective measure to counter dust will be the establishment of defensive tree rows which we will plant around the mine.

Existing legislation sets the radius of the sanitary protection zone around open-pit mines at 1000 metres. The nearest village, Saralandj, is 5,3 km away in a straight line from the project. The other five nearby villages – Saravan, Kechut, Ughedzor, Gndevaz and Gorayk, are 5,5 – 8 km away. The distance from the town of Jermuk is 12,5 km. Irrespective of the direction and strength of the winds in the locality, dust pollution of nearby villages is definitely excluded. Nonetheless, Geoteam has already rented land for a nursery in Gndevaz. Trees grown in the nursery will be planted at Amulsar in 3 – 5 defensive rows. We will start planting the first seeds in the nursery in this year.

OK so dust pollution of local villages is not a concern but it will be for workers around the mine. What will be the composition of the dust?

It's basically going to be the composition of the same rocks and ore that comprise the mining site. Drilling sample analyses show that this dust is benign. The rock is all oxidized which means if there were any sulphidic elements in it they have been weathered a long time ago out and the average concentration of heavy metals does not exceed the maximum permissible concentration of heavy metals in dust.

Is the method of ore treatment defined already?

Not yet, currently we are at the stage of the feasibility study, within which we review all feasible gold recovery techniques. It is worth mentioning that issues with environmental and social risks are decisive and critical in the process of decision making.

To what extent are the neighboring communities aware of the project, and what do the locals expect of it?

We use several tools to increase awareness of the three closest communities – Saravan, Gndevaz, and Gorayk. We have a full time community liaison officer on staff who visits every community at-least once a week to meet the local population and committees that have been formed to better facilitate our interaction. To fully express interests of the entire community the committee includes representatives of every segment of the population by occupation. These include local administration, health, education and business. We’ve also designed a grievance mechanism to collect and analyze all questions and complaints the village residents may have. Another information channel we utilise is a small monthly newspaper designed for and distributed within those communities.

Local expectations from the project are not surprising: employment in these villages is of course the number one concern. Our employment policy is focused on training and hiring local personnel. As part of that policy, we fully cover tuition fees of all local university students studying mining and geology. In 2 – 3 years, we hope to hire not only local workers and drivers, but also trained professionals such as geologists and mining engineers who will be able to get a job to match their qualification at home.

As to other social responsibility projects: irrigation and domestic water distribution channels, donating a water sanitiser, organizing rubbish collection, establishment of tree nurseries, a library, fixing the roads, and donating a centrifuge to the local medical centre are just some the activities we have been involved with.  Furthermore,  we have just approved a plan to assist Saravan in getting regular access to natural gas by laying a pipe from a gas main a couple of kilometers away.

Also Geoteam management has made a decision to move the majority of supporting businesses to our local communities. These would be for instance sample bag production, transportation and etc.

Thank you