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Warns against foreign power

FOTO: Eirik Palm

Warns against foreign power

Svalbard's most famous mountain is for sale. Labor Party leader warns against foreign powers getting a foothold.

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This week the news broke that Austre Adventfjord is for sale. The property is located on the north side of Adventfjorden, opposite Longyearbyen, and once belonged to De Norske Kulfelter Spitsbergen. It was later purchased by shipowner Jacob Kjøde, the maternal grandfather and great-grandfather of the current owners in the Horn family. The land extends from Revneset to Helvetiadalen and across to Deltaneset.

"The property is now for sale and I have no comment about the sale process," said Sveinung O. Flaaten, an attorney representing Henning Horn and the company Austre Adventfjord AS, in an interview with Verdens Gang.

Will start their own operation
Norway's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries confirmed to the newspaper that the property can be sold to foreign players.

"The Austre Adventfjord property may initially be sold freely, but within the limits set by the Svalbard Treaty and the Svalbard Act," the ministry stated in an e-mail.

The sale of Austre Adventfjord AS comes after a surprising development last fall. The company announced then they would start coal mining in Operafjellet, with former Longyearbyen Mayor and Store Norske engineer Bjørn Fjukstad in charge.

Warns against foreign power

Øyvind Snibsøer, the leader of Svalbard's Labor Party, is clear about what should happen with Austre Adventfjord.

"Here the state must step in and buy the property," he said. "For we do not know what we risk if it falls into foreign hands. It can be much more expensive to stem the interests of a foreign power than to buy it yourself," he said.

He noted the world's eyes are directed toward the Arctic, with China in particular a power positioning itself through observer status in the Arctic Council and research in polar areas. Snibsøer said he doesn't believe it is possible to imagine what such a sale will mean.

"If I'm going to speculate wildly, a foreign power can purchase the area, reopen the mine in Hiorthfjellet, scratch out some of the coal there and then demand they be allowed to build a quay to ship out the coal, which in turn will mean the infrastructure for coming from the airport," Snibsøer said.

Cooperation becomes conflict

The background of the impending sale centers around what was once good cooperation between Store Norske and Austre Adventfjorden that turned into a bitter conflict.

A cooperative agreement was signed in 1976 between the Horn family and Store Norske for recovery of coal on the property. The agreement had a term of 26 years, but it was cut off by Store Norske in 1992. The Horn family therefore let the claim areas on the property expire in 2000.

In 2008, Store Norske conducted new research at Operafjellet, located centrally on the Austre Adventfjord property. The company thus secured new claims on the treaty property and wants to mine Operafjellet after Ispallen.

Would likely get the coal regardless
Austre Adventfjord AS expressed a desire to have the state purchase the property, but they wanted to retain the rights to extract the coal there. But the Mining Code of Svalbard states it is the early bird that comes first that gets the rights.

In 2008 and 2011, Store Norske reported its findings from drillings into Operafjellet and filed seven claims in May of 2013. About three months are spent reviewing the company's claims applications to study the fine points. The Directorate of Mining with the Commissioner of Mines at Svalbard then decides whether the claims should be assigned.

"Provided that there are claims assigned, it will be finalized about six months later, if the decision is not appealed," said Mining Commissioner Peter J. Brugmans in an interview with Svalbardposten.

Can get one-fourth
The obligation to work is begins four years later. That means Store Norske must perform 300 man-days of work per year to keep the rights to a claim. With Store Norske making seven claims that means the company must perform 2,100 man-days of work in one year at Operafjellet.

What happens if Store Norske doesn't maintain their work obligation?

"They will lose the claim areas gradually, but they can apply for an exemption from the obligation to work if, for example, the claim areas are regarded as a reserve for a future operation since mining is a long-term affair where one might be thinking 20 to 30 years ahead," Brugmans said. "It is the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries that decides whether grant an exemption from the obligation to work after the commissioner's recommendation."

There is still a small hope for an eventual buyer who hopes to profit from coal at Operafjellet: the owner of the property has the right to up to one quarter of the coal in any mining operation.

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