Mining is often considered harmful for the environment but the Mexican multinational CEMEX, dedicated to manufacture building materials, has shown that this is not always the case.
The company was given a concession of 559 hectares to extract limestone in Chilibre, to the east of Panama City, next to the Alajuela Lake, the reservoir of the Panama Canal and the source of water for the Chilibre plant that supplies this vital liquid.
The four mining licenses were given by the Panamanian government in 2015, provoking protests from residents of the lake area and environmentalist groups who said that the mining activity would affect the Chagres National Park, threatening the water supply of 1,600,000 Panamanians
Since then, CEMEX changed its strategy and is planning to extract limestone now from a smaller area.
Gina Forte, CEMEX Communications Manager told The Bulletin that the company decided to exploit only 34 hectares, which represents 7% of the total concession, in order to preserve the flora and fauna of the area as well as Alajuela Lake and its residents.
The company also has an action plan to exploit five hectares at a time, which will have a basin system to trap the residues produced by the operation, avoiding the contamination of the lake’s water and causing minimal damage to the environment.
The other part of the plan is that once each quarry is closed, it will be planted with native plants. CEMEX is working with biologists and the local people to find out which species are the right ones to attract the animals that once were common along the lake’s bank.
“It is important for us that the residents, the government and environmental groups know what we are doing and work with us. “Committees formed by local people and other interested parties have had meetings with us and they have access to the environmental impact studies of the quarry,” explained Forte.
The zone around Lake Alajuela and Calzada Larga, in Chilibre, is the home of 15,000 people who have created informal communities. One of the main problems is the lack of essential services, such as water and sewage connections. Also, the garbage dumps are a big problem as all this waste is on land adjoining the lake, contaminating the water.
Forte explained that CEMEX has a series of programs to help the community address these problems and they are training the people by giving free workshops on embroidery, ecotourism construction and beauty treatment. They are also building roads to make remote areas more accessible.
CEMEX is one of the two companies that provide cement and concrete in the country. Forte said that the company is expecting the demand for their product to increase significantly with the construction of Lines 2 and 3 of the Panama Metro, the fourth bridge over the Canal and the Port of Corozal, just to mention a few infrastructure projects.
Forte invited those interested to see the environmental impact studies of the Calzada Larga quarry.