Councillors divided over proposal for underground gold mine in the Sperrins
Plans for a massive gold mine in the heart of the Sperrin mountains drew deep divisions during a heated council meeting.
Representatives from Canadian company Dalradian Resources were invited to Derry and Strabane Council to explain the company's proposals for work to be undertaken locally.
According to Dalradian, surveys have shown more than four million ounces of gold in the local ground which could produce 120,000 ounces of gold each year.
The company has estimated that the mine could yield gold for decades and create up to 300 jobs during the construction phase, with another 350 full-time jobs once the mine is operational.
A spokesman for Dalradian Resources explained: "The purpose of these applications is to continue the prospecting activities that we have been carrying out for the past six years, which include mapping, geophysical surveys, stream sediment and soil sampling.
"There has been a great deal of interest in our work at the Curraghinalt gold deposit, which falls within the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area.
"This regionally significant planning application, to build an underground gold mine at Curraghinalt, will be submitted to the Department for Infrastructure and will contain further details about the proposed project - jobs to be created during construction and operation and environmental protections."
DUP councillor David Ramsey said he believed a lot of rumours about the potential damage to the environment had been quashed.
He said: "As a council we need to be balanced and take into consideration our constituents who have concerns and to take into consideration future investment and employment.
"No one in the council chamber is an expert on mining or exploration so it is important that we know what we are looking at so we can allay fears over rumours.
"It is about being balanced and responsible and the company were very clear at allaying the fear as far as I was concerned."
He added: "They encouraged me to think more positively about it and not accept some of the scaremongering that some people are engaging in."
However, Cormac McAleer, who is chairman of Save Our Sperrins, did not share Mr Ramsey's confidence.
Mr McAleer said: "The company mentioned in its submission that they were meeting with the Department for Infrastructure and others on a number of issues and one was issues around radioactivity.
"That was the first time radioactivity was mentioned as an issue so rather than allay concerns we now have another big issue in addition to our concern about the damage to what is an area of outstanding natural beauty."
Dalradian has been working on the potential mine for around eight years has invested more than £62m to date.