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Chile Blocks World's Highest Mine Project

By LUIS ANDRES HENAO

VALLENAR, Chile (AP) â¿¿ Chile's environmental regulator blocked Barrick Gold Corp.'s $8.5 billion Pascua-Lama project on Friday and imposed its maximum fine on the world's largest gold miner, citing "very serious" violations of its environmental permit as well as a failure by the company to accurately describe what it had done wrong.

After a four-month investigation, the Environmental Superintendent said all other construction work on Pascua-Lama must stop until Barrick builds the systems it promised to put in place beforehand for containing contaminated water.

The fines add up to 8 billion pesos â¿¿ about $16 million â¿¿ the highest possible under Chilean law.

Chile's regulator noted that while Barrick itself reported failures, a separate and intensive investigation already begun by the agency's own inspectors found that the company wasn't telling the full truth.

"We found that the acts described weren't correct, truthful or provable. And there were other failures of Pascua Lama's environmental permit as well," said the superintendent, Juan Carlos Monckeberg. "This the first sanction taken by this superintendency and it is the biggest one taken in the environmental history of this country."

Barrick said it accepts all aspects of the resolution.

"We deeply regret that Pascua Lama has suffered inconveniences in its construction and we'll do our best efforts to straighten the road ahead and meet the conditions stipulated in the approved project," said Eduardo Flores Zelaya, president of Barrick South America and Senior Vice President of Pascua Lama. "We respect the institutions of the countries where we operate therefore we will act according to the resolution."

Argentine authorities have insisted that Lama, their side of the bi-national project, will proceed with or without Chile, taking advantage of the infrastructure already in place for its Veladero mine, which is already producing ore just downhill.

But most of Pascua-Lama's 18 million ounces of gold and 676 million ounces of silver are in Chile, where Barrick warned shareholders earlier this year that it might abandon the project if production can't begin in 2013.

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