Swiss village votes to turns its back on $1.2 billion goldmine

Half a lovely hillside

Villagers almost anywhere in the world would be celebrating if more than a billion dollars of gold was found under them. But not in Switzerland.

It was not a question many villagers will ever have to face – and theirs was an answer that even fewer would probably give. But when residents of a remote Alpine valley were offered a share of a fortune that would have brought them tens of millions of pounds, they said “No”…

After months of anguished debate, the villagers of Curaglia voted in a referendum last week to stop a Canadian mining company prospecting for the estimated $1.2 billion worth of gold ore believed to be lie in seams beneath the surrounding snow-capped mountains.

It would have been Switzerland’s first gold mine and one of only a handful in Europe but locals ran scared of the prospect of turning their valley into a miniature version of the Klondike.

In doing so they rejected a windfall of around 40 million Swiss francs over the next 10 years – a veritable bonanza for the 450 inhabitants of the picturesque valley…

The referendum result was unambiguous – while 90 people were in favour of allowing gold exploration to go ahead, 180 were implacably opposed.

Many people feared that the valley, with its crystal-clear streams, coniferous forests and timber barns, would have been irrevocably scarred by the mine, from which around five million ton of rock would have been dug…

But Thomas Boehm, 41, who works in the Hotel Vallastscha, which has the only bar and restaurant in the valley, said the mine would have reversed the valley’s long-term demographic decline. Ninety of its inhabitants are over the age of 75 and young people leave as soon as they can because of the lack of work…

Such arguments failed to sway the majority of the valley’s inhabitants. The conservatism for which the Swiss have been renowned for centuries ultimately snubbed out calls for change.

The money would have been nice,” said 17-year-old Nicole Venzin, sitting on a bench on Curaglia’s main street as elderly women entered the tiny supermarket with shopping bags. “But what sort of future would we have if we ruined the environment?”

That illustrates the actual contradiction confronting the villagers. Money vs. environmental degradation.

Please, don’t waste too much time on agitprop from the mining company. I’ve seen gold mines all over the Rockies. The scarring, the lengths mining companies will go to avoiding responsible cleanup are legion in this part of the GOUSA.

It’s why I supported the community and our elected officials who opposed the same kind of offer, the same line of bull, offered by the last gold miners who tried to come into Santa Fe County to suck gold out of the rocks and mountains around here. You can stand on the south side of town and look at the Ortiz Mountains 20 miles away and see the decades-old scars, acres of spoil left from cyanide-extraction of the gold. No thanks. We’d rather have happy tourists and citizens who can enjoy clean air and a comparatively unspoiled landscape.

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