Mon | Nov 23, 2020

Robert Morgan | Beyond the noise on Cockpit Country

Published:Sunday | August 4, 2019 | 12:00 AM
The splendour of Dornhead River in Trelawny is just one of many natural treasures in the Cockpit Country that the Government of Jamaica says it wants to preserve for the public good. Robert Morgan says that while the Holness administration will not permit mining in the Cockpit Country, the Government must balance the interests and opinions of all, not just those of environmentalists.
Robert Morgan
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The issues surrounding the Cockpit Country are sensitive and tug at the heartstrings of most Jamaicans. We should all be interested in protecting the Cockpit Country. In recent times, discussions about the Cockpit Country have become divisive.

There have been robust discussions about the protection of the Cockpit Country for several years, possibly dating back as far as two decades. In 2016, the Jamaica House Petition website was launched, and the Cockpit Country Protected Area received enough petitions for consideration. Consequent on that, talks that were already taking place within the Government were expedited on the instructions of the prime minister.

Additional consultations began, including a wide cross section of stakeholders such as environmentalists, bauxite interests, civil society, academia and others. On November 21, 2017, less than two months after the petition, the prime minister made a statement to Parliament on the matter.

On that occasion, the prime minister explained the process that had taken place and called attention to the fact that in ensuring the establishment of a scientific basis for the definition of the area, “we relied on the work of researchers who would have defined the contiguous, karstic geomorphology of the area, which gives the unique conical hillocks and valleys. The University of the West Indies, Mona, under the leadership of Professor Dale Webber, was engaged some years ago to undertake stakeholder consultations on the boundary of the Cockpit Country and make recommendations accordingly.

“In its 2013 report, the university recommended that the Cockpit Country comprise three zones, that is:

(i) a core that is represented by the contiguous karstic geomorphology of the area; represented by the boundary described in the Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr 2005 report;

(ii) a transition zone, commonly referred to as the National Ecological Gap Assessment Report (NEGAR) Cockpit Add-on Boundary; and

(iii) an outer boundary or Cockpit Stakeholders’ Group Boundary.” (Statement to Parliament by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, November 2017).

In addition, the prime minister underscored that “the Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr (2005) boundary is being recognised by the Cabinet as the boundary of the Cockpit Country by the State. This boundary will be declared and gazetted”. In other words, in coming to its position, the Government examined numerous reports and scientific research and selected a study that presented a full representation of all the previous studies that have been done. But that was only the beginning. The Government was still laying the foundation of what was to come.

The prime minister subsequently indicated that the Cabinet had also decided to protect not just environmental and hydrological sites but also cultural and historical sites. It was in this presentation that the prime minister said there was to be absolutely “no mining in the cockpit country protected area”. By so doing, the Government determined what should constitute the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) and ordered that it be gazetted by law.

Before that could be done, a ground truthing exercise had to be completed, which requires specific marking of the entire boundary of the 74,000 hectares. This is a very involved process as the forestry staff are required to walk every inch of the area and determine what is in and what is out of the CCPA. This was made even more difficult given that the area to be protected by law is approximately 10 per cent of Jamaica’s total land mass and has some of the most challenging terrain.

Additionally, persons in and around the area have begun destroying the piles that have been put in place during the delineation process. This means that some sections that were before completed will have to be redone.

IDENTIFYING CCPA BOUNDARIES

Having clarified the history, it is important to examine which areas constitute the CCPA and which areas do not. Crucial to this process will be the boundaries that have been proposed by the various stakeholder groups historically. ( Public Consultations on Defining the Boundaries of the Cockpit Country – Technical Report, 2013)

A previous administration approved and signed several mining licences, some of which were for areas outside of the protected area, and others that were within the protected area. Before 2017, areas within the CCPA were up for mining. It is this Andrew Holness-led Government that stopped it by demanding that the companies in question return some of the previously approved land.

Is there mining in the Cockpit Country?

The answer will depend on who you ask. For example, based on the views presented by some, Appleton is in the Cockpit Country. If the Government made Appleton part of the CCPA, the factory and all industrial agricultural practices would have to end.

Noranda employs about 700-plus people, including contractors, in addition to about 3,000 community members who depend on its support. There is a quarterly payment of millions of dollars to mining communities to offset expenses caused by environmental hazards. Residents depend on this.

Contemplate making the whole area protected – including those areas that have been identified by the scientists and other technical authorities as being within CCPA. What would happen to the farmers in Trelawny who plant hundreds of acres of yam? Surely you can’t have intensive yam farms within a CCPA?

The decision about the areas to be protected followed extensive consultations by the Government and relied on science rather than anecdotal views to determine the boundaries. It is also important to recall that even outside of the CCPA, the Government has created approximately 10 buffer zones around some features to protect them.

So, let me be abundantly clear: There is absolutely no mining within the CCPA and there will never be under this Government. This has been confirmed using satellite imagery and on-the-ground examination.

In the press release issued by the Office of the Prime Minister on June 5, 2019, the Ministry of Transport and Mining stated: “Noranda Bauxite partners II (Noranda) is currently not involved in any mining activities in the area to be protected as the Cockpit Country. The company’s bauxite mining activities are confined to two areas (SML 172 and SML 165), which are not part of the area to be protected as the Cockpit Country.”

The recent resurgence of discussions about mining in the CCPA has provided a welcome opportunity to again present the facts of the matter, and the position of the Government. As a Government, we have a duty to listen and make decisions in the best interest of the majority of the people. The views of those persons speaking up are important, but so, too, are the views of other Jamaicans who may be less vocal but who have a vested interest in the matter.

By creating a CCPA we are seeking to protect the Cockpit Country as defined by the experts while allowing industry to continue.

What the Government has to do is to listen to all and make decisions balancing the interests of ALL.

- Robert Morgan is a government senator and parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.