PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Haiti's government announced Friday that it has awarded permits for the first time in the country's history to allow two companies to openly mine for gold and copper.
The nation's mining director, Ludner Remarais, said he hopes the move will bring a badly needed burst of money to the impoverished Caribbean country of 10 million people where many live on a $1.25 a day.
Remarais issued a gold and copper exploitation permit to SOMINE SA, which is jointly owned by Canadian company Majescor Resources Inc. and Haitian investors. Remarais issued a second gold exploitation permit to VCS Mining LLC, a North Carolina-based mining company with offices in Haiti.
"It allows us to finally produce and make money, at least get to that step," Majescor CEO Dan Hachey said in a phone interview. "It's also a great step forward for the mining industry in Haiti."
The company still has to submit a preliminary environmental assessment, although obtaining the permit is the final step to allow open-pit mining, Hachey said. He added that a deadline hasn't been set.
The company will do additional drilling to better determine where the minerals are located, Hachey said.
"You want to see how far these deposits are, how broad, how wide, how deep, how long," he said.
Hachey said the company expects to invest about $75 million to get to the production stage for gold mining. He added that It will take hundreds of millions of dollars more to reach the production stage for copper mining, which he described as more difficult.
SOMINE engineer Michel Lamarre said he expects exploration to start in 36 to 42 months, adding that the company has already spent $10 million in research.
VCS CEO and Chairman Angelo Viard said in a phone interview that the company will start open-pit mining within two or three years.
"We are going to do things the right way," he said. "We are not going to rush. Our number one priority is the environment."
Viard said that company will likely invest between $25 million and $30 million in the process.
Friday's announcement comes after U.S. and Canadian investors spent more than $30 million in recent years on exploratory drilling and other mining-related activities in Haiti. In the past year, mining companies launched exploratory drills in Haiti's northeast region, saying they found precious metals that could be worth up to $20 billion.
Associated Press writers Evens Sanon reported this story in Port-au-Prince and Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.