Just four months after a deadly November mudslide destroyed an entire mining community in southwestern Brazil, the companies responsible were working toward a resumption of iron ore production by year end.
As recently as March, hundreds of people left homeless by the disaster were sleeping in new beds. Children who had lost their school were hitting the books at renovated buildings. Thousands of animals and fish had been saved or relocated away from areas polluted by billions of gallons of sludge.
All paid for by the mine and its owners, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Vale SA, which had agreed on a 12 billion reais ($3.66 billion) plan with the government to clean up after a dam holding mine waste burst in November. But the Samarco Mineracao SA joint venture remains idle nine months after the mudslide — unable to extract ore with no authorized place to put unwanted dirt and no startup date on the horizon.
A plan by BHP and Vale to resume output by temporarily using an empty mine shaft for waste has been delayed by political and regulatory hurdles. That may mean operations won’t resume for another two years at a business that generated more than 2 billion reais in annual profit for its owners.
“It’s going to be difficult,” said Anderson Silva de Aguilar, the government regulator who is overseeing Samarco’s bid to regain operating licences.
With no income from their joint-venture mine and growing questions about when it will resume production, BHP and Vale are looking into possible renegotiation of Samarco debt, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
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