High in the French Pyrenees, the city of Tarascon-sur-Ariège has a long and proud industrial heritage.
Industry had been the lifeblood of the region since the late 1800s, when local engineers harnessed water flowing from the mountainous terrain to power factories and mills.
By the early 1900s the first aluminium smelters had appeared in the region, and in 1926 the Sabart aluminium plant opened. At its peak, the operation employed up to 600 people and included a smelter, cast house, anode-baking furnace and ferro-silicon plant.
But by the mid-1990s the operation’s relatively small size and remote location meant it could no longer compete with larger smelters around the globe, and then-owners, Pechiney, closed it. Other plant closures followed in the region, hitting the community hard.
Looking at the bigger picture
Fast forward to 2016, and the Sabart aluminium plant site is once again a source of pride for the town.
During the past few years, Rio Tinto has been working with the local community to plan the site’s future. The company inherited the closed smelter following its acquisition of Alcan in 2007, which in turn had acquired Pechiney in 2003. It was agreed the city of Tarascon-sur-Ariège would buy the site at a discounted price, and transform it into a multi-use precinct for both recreational and commercial use.