In the Gandarela Mountain Range, located in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), Vale aims to produce 24 million tons of iron ore per year, for 17 years. Vale’s project is called Apolo Mine. Gandarela presents the largest and best preserved metallophile savannah (canga ecosystem) of the Iron Quadrangle (the mining region of Minas Gerais). This type of savannah has few remnants in Brazil, as it is generally destroyed by mining. It is an important recharge area for aquifers and, therefore, coincides with great underground water potential, which is important for the formation of river springs and also directed used for public water supply. For this reason, environmentalists even created the term Aquifer Quadrangle to oppose the official name Iron Quadrangle and thus the idea of a regional vocation focused on mining. It is estimated that 80% of the 5 billion m3 reserve of this Aquifer are located under the metallophile savannahs and that 40% of the remaining savannahs in the region are in Gandarela Mountain Range. Therefore, Apollo Mine could damage not only unique attributes of savannah ecosystems, such as the endemic biodiversity and dozens of caves, as well as the availability of water for the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte [1, 2, 4].
Before the beginning of the environmental licensing process of the Apollo mine in 2009, residents of the region, social movements and researchers prepared a proposal for the creation of the Gandarela Mountain Range National Park. The proposal was based on studies by researchers from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP) and sent to the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity (ICMBio) . In October 2010, ICMBio, in response to this demands, finalized the project of the Park, emphasizing the importance of fauna, flora and water resources of the area intended for the mine. For example, more than 1,000 springs identified could be severely affected by mining. The proposed area for the Gandarela Park was 38,210 hectares, of which approximately 3,580 hectares corresponded to the savannahs . The ICMBio proposal of creating the Park in the same territory required for mining paralyzed the environmental licensing process of Apollo Mine at the end of 2010 .
At the same time, movements opposing the implementation of the Apollo Mine, such as the Movement for the Preservation of Gandarela Mountain Range and the Movement of Mountain Ranges and Waters of Mines, organized several actions, such as denunciations and petitions to the State Public Prosecutor. Also, they organized an event in April 2010, called the "Viva Gandarela!", to call attention for the impacts of the Apolo Project and for the importance and relevance of the Gandarela Park creation. The event included an ecological walk followed by a hug to the Gandarela Mountain Range .
However, the course of the political negotiations around the creation of the Serra do Gandarela National Park changed significantly the initial proposal of ICMBio. While the ICMBio recommended the creation of the Park with an emphasis on conservation of the canga geosystem, the Apollo Project aimed to install the mine on a significant portion of these areas, since under the cangas would be the largest part of the iron ore deposit of Gandarela.
In face of these conflicts between Vale and the defenders of Gandarela Park, two Working Groups were created by the Secretary of State for the Environment and Sustainable Development of Minas Gerais (SEMAD/MG) in 2011 to prepare a consensual proposal, by ICMBio and SEMAD/MG, aiming the conservation of the Gandarela Mountain Range. Between November 2011 and February 2012, meetings of the Working Groups were held. Among the participants were representatives of SEMAD/MG, ICMBio, IBAMA, Vale, prefectures of Santa Bárbara and Raposos, Instituto Guaicuy -S.O.S. Rio das Velhas, the Cultural and Environmental Artistic Movement of Caeté, the Pro-Citizenship Institute, the Mining Association of Environmental Defense and the Mineral Industry Union of the State of Minas Gerais. Vale submitted a proposal to cut the Park, expanding the area dedicated to the Apollo Mine and reducing more than twice the area of protected cangas, which was considered unacceptable by ICMBio. The mine was included in the proposal made by the Working Group, but with a significantly smaller extension than that demanded by Vale. This proposal was based on an arrangement between ICMBio and SEMAD/MG, who agreed to reduce the area of the Park to 35,000 hectares – compared to the approximately 38,000 hectares of the original proposal .
However, in early 2013, according to the environmental analyst of ICMBio and participant in the process of creating the Park, João Madeira, the proposal was sent to the Ministry of the Environment and the most interested in the creation of the Park could no longer participate of the negotiations – including ICMBio technicians, who knew the details of the process, were left out of the moments of important decisions. This explains the results of negotiations around the boundaries of the Gandarela National Park, created by Decree on October 13, 2014. The area stipulated for the Park (31,270.83 hectares) was quite close to what had been demanded by Vale in the Working Group (30,293 hectares), although the contours were not exactly the same. These were, however, much more diverse than the initial ICMBio proposal or even the resulting agreement of the Working Group, since important areas of canga were excluded - precisely the areas of interest for the implementation of the Apollo Mine .
In response to the Decree, the Movement for the Preservation of Gandarela Mountain Range and other entities wrote the letter "National Park created does not protect the mountain range and the waters of Gandarela", criticizing the contours established for the Park. While Vale continues with the licensing process, these movements remain to oppose mining in Gandarela .