Approved by the cabinet on Friday, the plan is accompanied by a loan of Pta4.5bn (Ecu26.9m) to clean up the contaminated bed and banks of the Guadimar River. Several million tonnes of toxic sludge are due to be removed by the autumn, when seasonal rains are expected to make containment more difficult. Rainfall during May has already hindered initial clean-up operations.
The loan is partly a response to political opposition to the clean-up voiced by farmers' organisations. Some landowners have refused to allow clean-up operations to begin until they have received compensation. The Andalucian environment minister has responded by hinting at state expropriation of up to 2,500 hectares of farmland to enable the clean-up to proceed.
Under the government's plan, once the toxic mud has been removed a second operation will be set in train with the objective of returning once rich farmland to its original state.
Measures are also to be taken to protect the Doñana national park, which is downstream from the mine site. "Project Doñana 2005" includes steps to ensure that by 2005 the park can be guaranteed safe from the threat of long-term contamination and that its water supply will be of sufficient quantity and quality to maintain the biological dynamics of the wetlands. The project is to be co-funded by the Spanish government and the EU's cohesion fund.
The government's plan also indicates that two new laws are being drafted and will be submitted to Parliament within a short time: a civil responsibility act and an environmental impact evaluation act.
In addition, the government has promised to collaborate with the regional government of Andalucia in providing a wide range of measures of social, health, educational, logistical and scientific support for farmers and others affected by the spill.
Spanish environment ministry, tel: +34 1 347 5000.
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