Uruguay’s largest pulp mill UPM announced that it will be making final checks of the plant’s equipment in the rest of the week, following on annual maintenance work, but production is not scheduled to resume until the Finnish company receives a reply from President Jose Mujica regarding the output expansion request.
In an official release, UPM said that on Wednesday the annual stoppage for maintenance work had ended and technical staff was checking on the functioning of the equipment plus production tests, but “once culminated these trials the company will only resume production once a Uruguayan State resolution authorizes the requested increase in production”, from 1.1 million to 1.3 million tons annually.
Nevertheless UPM has a stock of 20.000 tons of wood which it could begin to process next week. The plant has a daily processing capacity of 3.000 tons.
But the final decision, not necessarily immediately implemented, is expected to emerge following a meeting between President Mujica and his Argentine peer Cristina Fernandez, scheduled for next Monday 30 September in Buenos Aires.
In principle Argentina strongly opposes the production expansion should Uruguay approve it. An attempt to hold a presidential meeting in the sidelines of the UN General Assembly did not materialize despite both heads of state attending the event.
Cristina Fernandez non official position has been that no reply can be expected from Argentina until the mid-term October elections are over. In the meantime an academic controversy has emerged in Uruguay as to whether the International Court of Justice ruling that helped end the conflict effectively had a clause or interpretation involving Argentina in such a decision.
Neighbouring Entre Rios province, linked to Uruguay via the San Martin bridge, is a stronghold of President Cristina Fernandez and she has no intention of annoying local voters, many of whom oppose the pulp mill alleging (yet to be proven) water and air environmental damage.
UPM General Manager Ronald Beare met this week with the mayor of Rio Negro county Omar Lafluf to consider the situation and to try and avoid sending people to unemployment insurance. Lafluf proposed as the most feasible solution that the plant advances its production-year.
“What we have to see is what solution we have to ensure production and we don’t have to send people to insurance. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking of 500 or 3.000, it’s no good for whoever is listed, and also it will cost the treasury money”
Lafluf also underlined he wants to avoid another conflict with Argentina. “We must try to avoid any big problem with Argentina, thus I feel the best solution is to advance production year, which gives us time to discuss the overall situation”.
On Friday Gualeguaychú will be celebrating “White Call” Day organized by the Citizens Environment Assembly one of the most radical groups opposing the UPM (former Botnia) pulp mill. All government primary and secondary school students together with teachers and parents will sing the Argentine national anthem and then a delegation from each school will express their right to live in a clean healthy environment, according to the local media
Likewise a group of environmentalists involved in the protests have announced they will not be travelling to Buenos Aires on Monday, summoned by Environment Secretary Juan Jose Mussi to address the UPM issue.
Argentine radical pickets blocked the San Martin bridge to protest then Botnia for almost four years.