A planning application for a controversial project to mine gold from the Sperrin mountains will be subject to a public inquiry, the Infrastructure Minister has said.
The Canadian mining company Dalradian is expected to submit its proposals for a site in Greencastle, Co Tyrone, in the coming months.
It has so far invested around £56m in the project, but has met with vocal opposition from some local residents who fear environmental damage to the area.
Yesterday, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard confirmed any planning application would be subject to an independent public inquiry.
In a statement, he said it was clear the planning application would be "complex and controversial".
"Before any decision is taken it would be beneficial to have a public inquiry and report which has independently considered the views of stakeholders, including the local community, and has scrutinised the information provided by all interested parties.
"The fact that I am minded to take this process route is without prejudice to the statutory planning process," he said.
Bernie Fox is vice-chair of the GRG concerned community group, which represents families and farmers in the Greencastle area.
She welcomed news of the inquiry, but remained fearful that a gold mine could turn the area into an "industrial wasteland".
"We don't know what we're facing until all the information is on the table.
"What they're proposing is to change that very beautiful area into an industrial wasteland, to use cyanide on that site which is in close proximity to homes and schools," she said.
"We understand they'll use the best technology available to make this as safe as possible, but they can't promise there will never be a disaster that will strike at the heart of our community," she added.
Chief executive of Dalradian Gold, Patrick FN Anderson, said the company would welcome an inquiry. "The process will provide a further forum in which to engage locally and hear more fully from those who are in favour of, against or indeed neutral on the project," he commented.
He added that in addition to investing £56m in the project, the company currently employs 44 staff here.
"This is a regionally significant project with the potential to create hundreds of jobs in west Tyrone if planning permission is granted," Mr Anderson added.