energy crisis

State-owned lignite mine makes life miserable for residents of Hungarian village

A coal and gravel mine is operating in a Natura 2000 area on the outskirts of Vadna in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county. Residents complain of dust and noise, and some are even considering moving away, but there is no one to sell their homes to, as not many people want to live next to an opencast mine. Ormosszén Zrt., which operates the mine has recently been acquired by the Hungarian state. They say that the harmful side-effects of their activities are below the limits set by the regulations – but information from the Government Office, which summarises the company’s fines, does not justify this. 

Last summer, the government decided on a seven-point energy emergency package in response to the energy crisis caused by the “protracted Russian-Ukrainian war and Brussels sanctions”, which included a commitment to increase coal mining and lignite production in Hungary by the end of 2022. At the end of the year, the state also entered the domestic brown coal supply as an owner. Ormosszén Zrt., which has a mining operation in Vadna, was also taken over by the state.

With a population of just over 600, Vadna lies in the picturesque Sajó Valley, about 30 kilometres from Miskolc, the county seat of Borsod Abaúj Zemplén county. However, some residents have long had problems with the coal and gravel mine that operates in the village, just a few hundred metres from their homes.

Dust, noise, lorries

There are two fields in the Vadna mining area, covering a total area of approximately 4 hectares, one located 160 metres from the recreation area called Vadna Park, and the other 80 metres from the residential buildings. Up to 60 thousand tonnes of coal may be extracted and transported from the mine by surface mining, which means 240 tonnes of coal per day.

Location of the Vadna mine shafts. Source: capacity expansion environmental impact assessment

Residents of Vadna living in the vicinity of the mine, interviewed by Átlátszó, said that the mine’s activity disturbs their everyday life because of the noise and dust and that the houses have been damaged: the walls cracked, thus losing their value.

One of the residents said she had lived in Vadna since birth, so long before the mine started its operation in the settlement. She also added that she would like to move if she could, and has advertised the flat, but when it turns out that there is a mine nearby, buyers usually back out. Another resident moved from a big city to the Vadna Park resort five years ago precisely because she wanted peace and quiet, but she says that since the mine re-opened “it has been almost impossible to live in peace and quiet.”

Fines of millions for air and noise pollution

But it’s not just the locals who are complaining: the authorities have also found irregularities at the mine. At the beginning of December, we sent a FOI request to the Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County Government Office, asking them to send us the documents of the fines imposed by them. We finally received a reply after three months (!), which showed that on-site inspections had been carried out ten times, and on four occasions the company had been fined a total of HUF 2 million.

The highest amount, HUF 1 million, for example, was imposed as an air pollution control penalty. Fines were also imposed for activities carried out in violation of the requirements of a single environmental permit. The most recent fine was received two months ago, for an amount of HUF 434,000.

This means that from the beginning of 2021, the company has had to pay a total of nearly HUF 2.5 million in fines.

In May 2022, the company wanted to expand its operations and initiated an environmental impact assessment procedure with the authority for the Vadna I mine. After repeated requests to rectify the deficiencies, the Government Office rejected the request to increase capacity.

The mining operation of the mine site “Sajókaza IV – coal and gravel” in Vadna. Source: reader’s photo

Locals have been protesting for twenty years

The problems around the mine did not start recently. More than 20 years ago, in February 2002, the village council put plans to open a mine before the residents, and a referendum was held to ask the villagers whether they were against the opening of the mine. In the end, the opponents won by only a few votes. In spite of this, a few months later an agreement was reached between the municipality and Ormosszén Kft.

Even the opening of the mine did not go smoothly: at the time, there were several reports in the Hungarian press of problems during the licensing and operation process. For example, an article in Magyar Hírlap in 2009 reported that the contractor started operating the mine without having obtained the necessary permits. In addition, the company has been fined on several occasions, for example for failing to maintain the required safety distance from the River Sajó.

Written and translated by Zita Szopkó. Video by Bence Bodoky. The original, more detailed Hungarian version of this story can be found here. Cover photo: the Vadna mine of the “Sajókaza IV Coal and Gravel” mine, with the settlement in the background.