A 34-year-old mayor of a small Brazilian city stands between a giant mine and its plans to resume operations after a disastrous dam collapse.
By refusing to sign off on the use of river water, Leris Braga is delaying permit approvals that would allow the BHP Billiton Ltd.-Vale SA iron venture to rehire thousands of workers and start generating cash again for debt repayments. While that makes Braga a villain for bondholders and unemployed locals, he says he’s only trying to get the company to meet its responsibilities.
“The city of Santa Barbara isn’t going to receive one cent,” he said in an interview from his offices in the more than 300-year-old mining town. “I’m not trying to make some exchange for the document they need.”
What he is trying to do is get the Samarco venture to fund measures to safeguard water quality. City sanitation experts outlined a plan that would cost about 70 million reais ($22.3 million). The cash-strapped venture is resisting Braga’s demands, with the two sides set to sit down for a court-ordered meeting on April 18.
Samarco used water from the river before its licenses were rescinded following a November 2015 spill that killed 19 people and polluted waterways in two states.
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