The binational mine was initially expected to be producing gold and silver by the second half of 2014, but the company now targets production by mid-2016.

While Argentine officials are eager to keep building, most of the estimated 18 million ounces of gold and 676 million ounces of silver are buried on the Chilean side. On the Argentine side, where Barrick fuels a third of San Juan province's economy, officials have been watching closely and trying to figure out how to preserve thousands of jobs.

Scarce river water is vital to life in Chile's Atacama Desert, and the Diaguitas fear the Pascua-Lama mine is ruining their resource.

"The ideal thing would have been for the Supreme Court to listen to us and order Barrick to start from scratch with a new environmental impact study," Diaguita leader Yovana Paredes Paez said.

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Associated Press writers Luis Andres Henao in Santiago and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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