By LUIS ANDRES HENAO
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) â¿¿ Barrick Gold Corp. suspended construction on its Pascua Lama mine Wednesday after a Chilean court ruled in favor of indigenous communities that say the world's highest-altitude gold mine threatens their water supply and pollutes glaciers.
The appeals court in the northern city of Copiapo charged the Toronto-based mining company with "environmental irregularities" during construction of the gold and silver mine straddling the Andean border with Argentina.
"The company is suspending construction work on the Chilean side of the Pascua Lama project while working to address environmental and other regulatory requirements to the satisfaction of Chilean authorities," Barrick said in a statement. "In the interim, activities deemed necessary for environmental protection will continue as authorized."
Chile is the world's top copper producer and its economy relies on the export of minerals. Mining also offers many of the country's poor their best shot at a middle-class life, especially in the rugged desert areas of the north where most of the mines are located.
But several mining and energy projects in power-strapped Chile have been delayed amid mass protests demanding more regulation of the country's natural resources.
Interior Minister Andres Chadwick welcomed the court ruling, which follows a fine imposed on Barrick by Chile's Environmental Evaluation Service for failing to monitor glaciers at Pascua Lama. Chadwick said he hopes the world's top gold mining company can fix problems at the mine.
"We're not surprised at all and we think it is good that through a legal organism, construction work is suspended while Pascua effectively attends to the charges already made by the environmental regulator," Chadwick told local Radio Cooperativa.
Barrick stock lost $2.23 a share, or 8.4 percent, to close at $24.46. The stock was already around four-year lows, and the closing price was its lowest level since December 2008.