- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A new documentary has stirred debate about a proposed mining project in Romania, one of several conflicts around the world that pit environmental activists against poor communities desperate for economic development.

several conflicts around the world that pit environmental activists against poor communities desperate for economic development.

Groups opposing the project say the proposed mine would hurt the environment and threaten buildings of cultural and historical significance near the 2,000-year-old mining village of Rosia Montana.

The mine’s proponents say the project offers the community its only hope of economic development, and that the mining company would clean up the environmental damage from thousands of years of uncontrolled mining and preserve historic buildings.

“Mine Your Own Business,” a film produced by New Bera Media in association with the New York-based Moving Picture Institute, exposes what it calls “the dark side of environmentalism.”

In impoverished villages in Romania, Madagascar and Chile, filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, both fellows of the MPI, encounter environmentalists who want to stop proposed mining projects. Many villagers who appear in the documentary say the mining projects would bring much-needed financial resources into their economically deprived regions.

Left-wing groups have called the film propaganda, noting that it received significant funding from Gabriel Resources, the company trying to begin mining operations in Rosia Montana. The filmmakers acknowledge the funding at the beginning of the film, saying they agreed to produce the film on the condition of complete editorial independence.

Rob Pfaltzgraff, executive director of the MPI, called it a “sign of transparency” that the film included information pertaining to its relationship with Gabriel Resources. “There was no editorial control whatsoever, and everyone who has met these filmmakers knows how stubbornly independent they are.”

The documentary portrays environmental organizations as opponents of economic development that want to preserve what they call a quaint way of life where people drive horses rather than cars.

Stephanie Roth, a 2005 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, works with the nongovernmental organization Alburnus Maior to stop the Gabriel Resources mining project. Ms. Roth, who initially came to Romania to stop an amusement park from replacing an old oak grove, represents a group of locals who are opposed to the project. The documentary and the mining company say that despite her vocal opposition, the majority of locals want the mining project.

“I’m not interested in being the majority,” said Ms. Roth, whose Goldman Environmental Prize footage appears in the documentary.

Ms. Roth said the mining company will destroy the old churches in Rosia Montana. Kathy Sipos, director of investor relations and corporate communications for Gabriel Resources, said the company would preserve all 41 buildings designated as historically significant by Romanian government agencies. She said six churches in the Rosia Montana valley will be preserved, while two others will be either moved or replaced according to the wishes of the congregations.

“For all [Ms. Roth‘s] supposed concern about the churches, what would happen if she prevails, Gabriel leaves, and unemployment goes to 100 percent?” asked Ms. Sipos. She referenced a church in a nearby village, Geamana. “It too had a state-run mine that simply closed. The villagers left. The church is abandoned. It is being slowly flooded.”

Ms. Roth rejected the notion that Rosia Montana is monoindustrial and said small businesses and farm subsidies from the European Union were promising options for economic development. “We believe in development from bottom up and not from top down,” she said.

She said economic activity has been stagnant since 2002 because the area is reserved for mining. “If Rosia Montana today is economically deprived, it is because of Gabriel Resources,” she said.

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