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Did ArcelorMittal Commit to “Washing Plant” in Bassa? What Does the Evidence Say?

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Recently, there have been agitations in the public, particularly in Grand Bassa County, about the perceived relocation of a “washing plant” from Buchanan to Nimba County.

Some stakeholders, citizen groups, and civil society actors directly accused ArcelorMittal Liberia of “intentionally removing the washing plant from Buchanan to Nimba without the consent of citizens and county leaders.

An investigation conducted by this paper over the claims making the rounds in Bassa and other places has established that, for the first consideration, ArcelorMittal is not building any “washing plant”.

Washing plant vs. ore concentrator

ArcelorMittal, our analysis found, is using modern, high-class technology for a new “ore concentration plant” near its mining site in Nimba County and not a ‘washing plant”.

In the mining industry, ore washing involves the processing of clay iron ore, manganese ore, apatite ore, and placers of gold, platinum, tin, and tungsten. Ore washing is also used to process sand, gravel, and ceramic materials from mined minerals. This is the kind of facility LAMCO operated in Buchanan before the war.

The ore concentrator being built by ArcelorMittal involves the use of modern technology in the processing stage of the ore, where the mined material is transformed into usable raw material.

For iron ore in particular, the concentrator that is under construction by AML will be used for crushing the ore and then concentrating it in different ways, for example, by milling, flotation, or magnetic separation.

At some sites, the concentrator will process the ore further and have it pelletized for use in direct reduced iron (DRI) steelmaking instead of direct shipment ore (DSO), which is currently done by ArcelorMittal.

Did Arcelor Mittal promise a washing plant? What does the evidence suggest?
In our investigation, we could not establish a clear-cut commitment on the part of ArcelorMittal to construct a “washing plant’ in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.

The section of the current Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) being referenced by citizens and stakeholders in Bassa and other places is a tentative development plan that was submitted when Mittal Steel initially entered Liberia.

How did the ore concentrator go to Nimba?
In 2006, a new steel giant was created out of a bitter battle after Arcelor formally agreed to a €26.5 billion takeover by rival Mittal Steel.

The deal combined Arcelor, a symbol of successful pan-European cooperation and economic revival with operations that span Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and Spain, with a fast-growing conglomerate founded by the India-born Lakshmi Mittal, who built a fortune turning around sick steel plants in rapidly expanding markets from Trinidad to Kazakhstan.

With this merger, a more detailed plan with approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the iron ore concentrator plant be located near the mines so that the effluent tailings could be managed near the mine site rather than exposing the sensitive marine eco-system in Buchanan to the potential impact of a mining operation.

The feasibility studies that ArcelorMittal Liberia conducted also showed that it is technically efficient and cost-effective to locate the concentrator near the source of the iron ore in Nimba County.

ArcelorMittal Liberia believes it is producing high-grade iron ore, which requires approximately 25 million tons of raw ore annually to produce 15 million tons of concentrated product.

Thus, transporting the raw ore to Buchanan would also consume valuable rail capacity that is currently in demand by other users.

What does Grand Bassa benefit from in the absence of the ore concentrator?
As part of ArcelorMittal’s Phase II expansion and in recognition of the key role Grand Bassa plays in its mining and logistics drive, the layout of the revised operation has relocated all rail maintenance facilities to Buchanan, in contrast with LAMCO, which had these in Nimba County.

Additionally, the company says, to help compensate for the job balance with Nimba, ArcelorMittal is building an automatic rail unloading facility and stockpile with stackers and reclaimers, which are part of a large conveyor belt under construction in Buchanan.
The company is also undertaking a major expansion of the Buchanan Port to enhance its cargo handling capacity.

A vocational training center for Grand Bassa County is also under consideration to help train the large number of technical employees that will be required.

AML has assured all stakeholders that it is sustainably committed to mining and remains in a long-term partnership with its communities, the government, and the people of Liberia.

The company is at the same time requesting that interested groups or individuals seeking more information on this subject contact the AML Communication office.

What next?
Our Reporter in Grand Bassa saw first-hand how about a dozen of young people matched unto AML’s concessional area in Buchanan, set roadblocks and disrupted normal work.

These acts of violent protests and vandalism have the potential to scare away investors and make way with income that could help raise living standards by improving education and healthcare.

Disruptions of such could also result in huge losses to not just the company but the government.

Stakeholders of Grand Bassa must seek dialogue on the way forward regarding the subject of the ore concentrator being built in Nimba.

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