UN experts study effects of Xstrata nickel mine project in Dominican Republic

A team of experts from the U.N. on Tuesday began evaluating a proposed nickel mine expansion in the Dominican Republic that has been halted by a court over environmental concerns.

The team from the U.N. Development Program will analyze the project and the government environmental reports of the potential environmental, social and economic effects of the Loma Miranda project. The analysis is expected to take up to six months and the results will be made public.

"We are not going to recommend whether to go forward with the project or not; that's the government's decision," said Roberto Galvez, a team representative. "We are going to make an objective study, taking into consideration all the elements."

Xstrata Nickel, based in Toronto, Canada, has applied for permits to begin mining in 2016 on (3,400 acres) 1,380 hectares near Bonao, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Santo Domingo in the center of the Caribbean country. The project would extend the life of the company's nearby Falcondo mine and processing facility, which produces ferro-nickel used to manufacture stainless steel.

The company, a division of Anglo-Swiss mining company Xstrata PLC, has said it believes it can extract 20 million tons of mineral over the next 25 years at Loma Miranda.

Dominican officials have supported an expansion of mining in the country but the project has run into opposition. The Academy of Sciences said the project could contaminate the main water source to the country's rice growing region as well as a network of rivers and the open pit mine would destroy large amounts of natural habitat.

In September, a judge sided with opponents and ordered Xstrata to halt work on the project until further studies were conducted. Luis Jose Lopez, a spokesman, said the company complied with the order but also appealed the ruling. He said the company would take extensive steps to minimize the environmental effects.

President Danilo Medina asked the U.N. to evaluate the concerns raised by opponents of the project.