Resources, owns the rights to mine the hills here and
wants Mr. David, 41, to leave his 50 acres of land so that the
company can carve out what would be Europe’s largest open-pit gold
mine. Mr. David says he isn’t budging.
“We don’t want to move,” he
says, staring across at the brown-gray stain of Rosia Montana’s
defunct gold mine, which would be swallowed by Gabriel Resource’s
In the old days, a pipsqueak
like Mr. David wouldn’t stand a chance fighting powerful and
sophisticated adversaries like Gabriel Resources and its minority
partner, the Romanian government.
But this is the Internet age,
when local activists like Mr. David can tap into an increasingly
well-oiled global network of non-governmental organizations for
financial and political support on a long list of causes and emerge
with almost as much clout as any corporation.
Mr. David’s stubbornness has
struck a chord with the anti-globalization movement. Gabriel
Resources’ proposed open-pit, cyanide-leaching mining process has
also drawn the ire of international environmentalists who are now
trying to stop it.
They just might win.
Mining is one of the world’s
most unpopular pursuits these days, particularly the gigantic
gouging that leaves the earth pocked with moonscape-like craters a
mile or more wide. Gold mining is disdained even more because of the
perceived frivolity of its end: to provide lucre for the rich,
status for the everyman and hidden stores of wealth for nations.
But it also has a strong
allure, particularly for resource-rich countries like Romania that
are struggling to develop impoverished communities that need jobs.
The $3.7 billion project would
plow more than $2 billion into the Romanian economy and could earn
Gabriel Resources and its shareholders profits of $1 billion or
more. And the company involved here, a Toronto-based corporation
with market capitalization of $1 billion, is run by savvy mining
executives, many of them highly experienced from cutting their teeth
Corporation, the largest gold mining company in the
The allure is perhaps stronger
in Romania because the country was created, in a way, by gold
Early in the second century
A.D., Emperor Trajan extended Roman territory to include what is now
Transylvania, in the western half of Romania, to mine Europe’s most
important gold deposits. The mines helped finance the expansion of
the empire to its peak. When the Romans abandoned the territory
almost 200 years later, they left behind colonists who are the
ancestors of Romanians today.
When the Romans left, the
mining did not stop. The eventual ruling dynasty, the Hapsburgs, and
the Communists, who turned to open-pit mining, continued the
process, though with dwindling efficiency. The mine was finally shut
in early 2006.
Gabriel Resources was born in
the breakup of the state-owned economy after Communism’s collapse
when Romanian businessmen with little mining experience and
suspected ties to the former secret police won a vast concession to
exploit mineral deposits.
Mr. David and his neighbors
realized six years ago that the company planned to expand the old
mine and formed an association called Alburnus Maior — Rosia
Montana’s Roman name — to try to stop the project. They were engaged
in an ineffective letter-writing campaign when the founders of
Gabriel Resources moved the company’s listing from Vancouver,
British Columbia, to the more respectable Toronto Stock Exchange.
Mr. David’s opposition might
have withered had it not been for an ill-advised plan to build a
Dracula theme park near the picturesque Romanian town of Sighisoara,
once home to Vlad Dracula, the notorious Romanian ruler and
inspiration for “Dracula,” the Bram Stoker novel.
Prince Charles of Britain, fond
of Romania’s old Saxon villages, was outraged. So was Teddy
Goldsmith, the aging anti-globalist environmentalist and scion of a
wealthy business family.
A Swiss-born environmental
journalist named Stephanie Roth, who wrote for Mr. Goldsmith’s
magazine, The Ecologist, moved to Romania to help defeat the
project. With such powerful forces aligned against it, the theme
park for Sighisoara died. While in Romania, Ms. Roth heard about the
Gabriel Resources’ plan for Rosia Montana and went to meet Mr. David
in April 2002. Within months, she had introduced him to some of the
most powerful environmental organizations in the world.
“When I came there was no
computer, no Web site,” Ms. Roth said. “I tried to empower the local
Ms. Roth started by helping Mr.
David’s group obtain a grant for a few hundred dollars from an
American environmental organization, Global Greengrants Fund. They
organized a public hearing in Rosia Montana that drew 40
non-governmental organizations with Romanian operations, including
and catapulted Mr. David’s dispute onto the national stage.
Then Ms. Roth took to the road.
By the time Gabriel Resources’ founders turned the company over to
more professional management in 2005, the company had an
international coalition of nongovernmental organizations arrayed
But the mining industry doesn’t
easily back down.
Hoping to extract an estimated
300 tons of gold and 1,200 tons of silver from the mine, Gabriel
Resources introduced a public relations campaign with Madison
Avenue-style television commercials and community sponsorships to
win over 960 Rosia Montana families that it needed to relocate. It
cast itself as an economic savior. It even countered a critical
documentary with its own film, “Mine Your Own Business.”
Some efforts backfired. Gabriel
Resources helped sponsor the Transylvanian International Film
Festival in nearby Cluj-Napoca. But when its organizers invited Ms.
Redgrave to receive a lifetime achievement award, Ms. Roth quickly
put the actress and Mr. David together.
Ms. Redgrave’s acceptance
speech became a rallying cry against Gabriel Resources’ project. The
anti-Gabriel Resources’ movement had its mascot and the European
press began covering the story.
Word of the movement had by
then reached the Open Society Institute of George Soros, which has
been working for years for more accountability from Romanian public
“When guys in S.U.V.’s with
bags full of cash show up in a poor locality in Romania, they can
really make the law there,” said Radu Motoc, project director of the
Open Society Foundation-Romania.
Nearly all members of Rosia
Montana’s former and current council are either employed by Rosia
Montana Gold, Gabriel’s local subsidiary, or have family members who
are, according to the foundation.
The foundation, which has
already given $35,000 to the cause, says it plans to spend as much
as $240,000 next year fighting the project and helping Mr. David.
Because of the polarizing debate surrounding open-pit gold mining,
it is hard to find an unbiased commentator to assess the risks and
benefits of Gabriel Resources’ proposed mine. A major focus of
contention is the use of large quantities of highly toxic cyanide to
separate gold and silver from the ore.
In 1999, Aurul, a joint venture
of the Australian mining company, Esmeralda Exploration, and a
Romanian national company, Remin, began a leaching operation to
recover gold from old tailings in Baia Mare, or Great Mine, roughly
80 miles north of Rosia Montana. Like Gabriel Resources, the company
promised a state-of-the-art, self-contained project that would not
pose risks to the environment. But less than a year later, the dam
holding back a lake of cyanide-laced water burst, sending 100,000
cubic meters of contaminated water downstream to the Danube, killing
more than 1,200 tons of fish in Hungary.
Gabriel Resources says it would
build in safeguards that were missing at Baia Mare. It has promised
to convert most of the cyanide into a nontoxic compound before
discharging it into the mine’s tailing pond. It also promises to
clean up pollution left by past mining operations and spend $70
million to do as much as possible to repair the altered landscape
after its project is done.
“Arsenic, cadmium, nickel,
lead,” said Catalin Hosu, a public relations official for Gabriel
Resources, ticking off just a few of the heavy metals that leach
from ancient mines to give this valley its name; Rosia Montana means
“We help the biodiversity; we
help the environment,” said Yani Roditis, Gabriel Resources’ chief
That’s difficult for many
people here to believe. The new project will grind down several
hills, leaving four deep pits in their place, and slowly fill an
entire valley with wastewater and tailings that will take years to
Robert E. Moran, a mining
expert hired by the opposition to evaluate the impact of Gabriel
Resources’ plans, said that the mine, despite detoxification, would
inevitably produce other toxic byproducts damaging to the
environment, including heavy metals.
The controversy, meanwhile, has
splintered the town, its buildings divided between those with signs
that read, “Property of Rosia Montana Gold Corp.” and others that
say, “This Property Is Not For Sale.”
“I was born here, so why should
I leave?” said Gabriela Jorka, 38, who runs a small general store in
Rosia Montana. “I’d rather kill myself.”
Eugen Bobar, 60, the school
principal, says that the dispute is pitting parents against
children, husbands against wives. But only about 40 percent of the
families to be relocated remain, and Mr. Bobar predicts that most of
them will leave. “Most of the people who talk about the environment
are just making an excuse,” Mr. Bobar said, sitting in the school’s
office late one night. “They will leave for a good price.”
Mr. David, however, insists
there is a committed core of opponents who will not sell, whatever
the offer. In that case, Gabriel Resources warns, it may ask the
state to step in and move people out by force. But that could lead
to years of legal wrangling.
The company has told its
shareholders that it expects to receive final approval for the
project from the Romanian government this year and will start
producing gold by mid-2009.
Gabriel Resources, which is
based in Toronto, is, meanwhile, trying to win over the remaining
holdouts. It is sponsoring education for underprivileged children in
Rosia Montana through a nongovernmental organization run by Leslie
Hawke, the mother of the actor Ethan Hawke and a celebrity herself
in Romania. She supports the project.
“It’s probably better that
nothing happened, but the gold is there and if they don’t do it,
somebody else will,” Ms. Hawke said. “And I’d rather that they do it
than somebody else.”