Hwy. seen boosting Santa Cruz mines

Friday, April 25, 2003

The development of highway infrastructure in eastern Bolivia's Santa Cruz department will provide an important impulse to the local non-metallic mining industry, a government official told BNamericas.

The government officially launched on April 19 construction of a 149km segment of a 550km highway stretch through Santa Cruz, part of the so-called inter-oceanic corridor between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

"This will require the use of arid material as this type of reinforced concrete has never been used in this country before in highway construction," said the government official, Jose Padilla, head of the Santa Cruz mines department.

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The 149km section will require investment of US$72mn, and the whole Santa Cruz stretch is estimated to need US$450mn. Contracts to build the remaining segments are due to be awarded in coming months.

Along with supplying the industrial minerals necessary to construct the road, the highway is also seen benefitting the development of mining projects in Santa Cruz, such as the Don Mario gold-silver-copper deposit and the El Mutun iron ore deposit.

Operations at Don Mario, which is expected to produce 60,000oz/y gold and is owned by Canada's Orvana Minerals (TSX: ORV) and local miner Comsur, are due to start next month. The Bolivian government wants to award a concession to operate the El Mutun deposit, which it says has 40Bt of reserves.

The road could also help small-scale miners export tantalum, which is extracted in the area when prices are high, cutting the cost of taking the mineral to port.

The new highway could also be a factor in deciding whether to build a cement plant 40km from Puerto Suarez, close to the Brazilian border, for which a feasibility study has already been completed.

The Santa Cruz region is also known for its deposits of quartz sand of 99.3% purity, and is to be the location of a glass-making factory, which would benefit from the new highway.