(Reuters) - A Romanian court annulled a zoning plan in a decision that may further delay a project to set up Europe's largest open-cast gold mine in the Carpathian town of Rosia Montana, opponents of the mine said on Thursday.
Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), majority-owned by Canada's Gabriel Resources Ltd, aims to use cyanide to extract 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver in the western Romanian county of Alba. The project has dragged on for 14 years and still needs an environmental permit.
The court of appeals in Alba said on Thursday it had annulled Rosia Montana's town planning documents - including those that refer to the area RMGC needs to set up the mine - in its final decision in a trial brought by two non-government organisations that oppose the project.
RMGC proposes four gold quarries over the mine's lifespan, which would destroy four mountaintops and wipe out three villages of Rosia Montana's 16 while preserving the historical centre.
The Romanian government holds a 19 percent stake in the project, which is valued at $7.5 billion.
"These documents are the basis on which Rosia Montana Gold Corporation got its urban planning certificate and other papers, and since it has been annulled, it will be easier to get the company's certificate cancelled as well," said Marius Liviu Harosa, the lawyer who handled the case.
If the certificate is revoked, the environment ministry will probably need to stop its environmental impact assessment, Harosa added. RMGC's certificate is an important part of its environmental impact statement filed with the ministry.
The ministry was contacted by Reuters but has not yet commented on the decision, and the company said it needed more details.
"We are not in a position to comment until after we receive the court ruling motivation and review it thoroughly," said Andreea Nastase, RMGC communications vice-president.
The gold mine has drawn fierce opposition over the years from civic rights groups, environmentalists and neighbouring Hungary, which say it would destroy ancient Roman gold mines and villages and could lead to an ecological disaster.
Most of the 2,800 residents of Rosia Montana, however, hope the project will bring jobs and money to the impoverished town, which took a hit when a state-owned gold mine closed in 2006. Only a small group of residents refuse to sell their property to make way for the mine.