Aparazh Ltd. assumed management of the Akhtala Mountain Enrichment Combine (AMEC) three months ago since the company was facing a $1.2 million U.S. debt.
Aparazh however isn’t saying how long it will continue to manage the AMEC, nor will it specify what kind of deal it struck with Metal Prince Ltd., financially strapped company that owns AMEC.
No one at AMEC wished to talk to this reporter about the company’s present situation.
“As far as I know, AMEC is deep into debt. This is of deep concern to the Akhtala community and to me as mayor,” said Akhtala Mayor Haykaz Khachikyan.
Around 300 local residents work at AMEC and Mayor Khachikyan is worried that a halt in operations will throw the community into social calamity. Even without the threatened stoppage of the community’s major employer, emigration has reduced Akhtala’s population from 5,000 to 3,000 today. The mayor believes that small and medium size businesses can fill the employment gap.
“Our community, however, is still burdened with the Soviet mentality and residents believe that the government is obliged to guarantee them jobs,” Khachikyan said.
AMEC Deputy Executive Director Gagik Gevorgyan says the main problem is to re-instill community confidence in the company.
“You know the state the mine was in when we took over. We tried to bring a sense of order to the production units. We provided the drillers with new work clothes and lamps. We are also trying to pay workers on time,” Gevorgyan said.
At first, Gevorgyan agreed to show us conditions in the crushing units. At the end of our conversation, he changed his mind.
A driller named Armen verified that the company had provided clothes and lamps, and that management wants to pay workers on time. Nevertheless, Armen complained about the wages. “How can you send somebody to work in the mine and only pay him 120,000 AMD ($300 U.S) a month?” exclaimed Armen.
Mayor Khachikyan is hopeful that the new management will be able to resolve the environmental risks that threaten his town. “The Armenian government has delineated Akhtala as a tourism development center. Dangerous waste dumps threaten not only the health of residents but any prospect of developing tourism.”
Gagik Gevorgyan claims that the company has stopped the dumping of tailings along the Akhtala-Mets Ayroum road after the process was reported in Hetq on Dec. 4, 2013. He says the tailings have been recycled, adding that a panel of experts from the Ministry of Nature Protection will make recommendations about how to handle unmanageable tailings within the town’s borders.
Mayor Khachikyan notes that the company is presently not conducting any exploratory work to uncover new ore reserves. He added that water outflow from the company’s Shamlough open pit mine also poses grave environmental risks to Akhtala and the Debed River.
Akhtala municipal budgetary revenue for 2014 is pegged at 58.178 million AMD. Under the four year development program, the community’s kindergarten building in the Svinets neighborhood was renovated last year. A playground was built in the Barit neighborhood and the roofs of four houses were repaired with budgetary resources. In December, work began to fully repair the community’s internal water distribution system at an estimated cost of 240,000 million AMD to the budget.
“We plan to construct two regulatory reservoirs and to replace the entire 13 kilometers of the water system,” the mayor said, adding that benches will be installed in the parks and playgrounds this year.
As a cost-cutting device, the mayor said that there will be only one principal for all three community pre-schools.
On a final note, Mayor Khachikyan said that one of his priorities was to construct a garbage dump in Akhtala.
Upon leaving Akhtala, I met a group of pensioners sitting in the Sarahart neighborhood square.
“It’s great that a new water system is being built and that the kindergartens are being renovated. However, we are living in very bad conditions. Our way of life hasn’t changed,” said one.