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Sand shortage - Drought sparks mining clampdown, building costs to spike

Published:Tuesday | August 19, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Mining activities in Yallahs, St Thomas. The Mines and Geology Division has suspended operations in the river because of drought conditions affecting the island. - File

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

A severe shortage of river sand has forced the mining and quarrying branch of the Mines and Geology Division to clamp down on sand-mining operations across the island, warning that the situation will worsen as the drought continues.

"There is currently a shortage of traditional river sand in Jamaica and it can only get worse in light of the chronic drought that we have faced certainly over the last five years," Ronald Edwards, deputy commissioner of the mining and quarrying branch, told The Gleaner yesterday.

"We have this chronic shortage of sand. We have recognised that in some areas, there is no sand, and as such we will have to rest some of these areas (because) we wouldn't't want it to come to the point where we have to import sand," he added.

Edwards further explained that the lack of rain has interrupted the sediment flow into the main river sources for sand - Morant and Yallahs in St Thomas, Wag Water in St Mary, and Rio Minho in Clarendon.

The division has for the past four months suspended sand mining in Yallahs to allow the river to 'rest' and plans to do the same for the Rio Minho before moving on press home the same message to the Wag Water and Dry River operators in St Mary.

"There is going to be a continuing shortage of traditional sand until we have significant improvement in rainfall," Edwards said.

Chescot Brownie, director of western Jamaica real-estate developers Seal Construction Ltd, warned that the sand shortage could trigger an escalation in building costs.

"We have been having a sand shortage for some time. The Chinese have been prepaying for most of the sand," Brownie told The Gleaner last night, referring to the large-scale road infrastructure developments by the China Harbour Engineering Company.

"Locals can't get much sand. This will make it worse now."

Brownie fears that truckers will take advantage of the sand crisis by hiking the prices of hauling aggregate, which he said costs $1,300-$1,400 per tonne.

He added that western Jamaica real-estate developments, like an impending multi-home construction in Lucea, Hanover, could seriously be affected.

The Mines and Geology Division will tomorrow host a workshop for all major stakeholders in regard to sand mining and quarrying, where it will impress upon quarry operators, regulatory agencies and the police, among others, the gravity of the situation which could have serious implications for the construction industry.

Meanwhile, Leonard Green, president of the All-Island Truckers' Association, said although his members were aware of the shortage of sand, his association has not been engaged by the authorities.

"I didn't know something was in the pipeline. We understand risks of erosion and so the whole thing has to be managed," Green said.

He argued that the decision by the authorities in setting up a permanent truck weigh station in Harbour View, St Andrew, to monitor the operations of aggregate truckers from Yallahs and its environs forced some truckers to take their business elsewhere. He said this led to increased demand for aggregate from the Rio Minho and Wag Water River.