Sigh of relief - Treadways residents happy for stop order against CHEC mining operations
News that the authorities have issued a stop order on the mining of aggregate by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) at a quarry in Treadways, St Catherine, is being welcomed by residents of surrounding communities who say they are the main victims of this operation.
According to the residents, the mining operation has disrupted their water supply.
"Can you believe that this used to supply water to at least two districts and now we hardly getting any water?" lamented Thomas Morgan.
"People have to be carrying water in buckets to their homes," added Morgan, a farmer of the nearby Bailey Town, as he pointed to a near-empty dam - the main water supply for residents of the Bailey Town and Mountain Pass districts.
Morgan and his neighbours are convinced that the water source, the Mountain Pass Spring, has been jeopardised by the quarrying operations by CHEC.
"Wi have to live with it because wi small. The few little people here can't make a talk. Government talk bout the protection of certain natural water resources, but dem a destroy it," argued Morgan.
It took him at least 15 minutes from his house, chopping and bending through tick-infested bushes along a narrow path to the dam.
At some intervals, he navigated around brutal 'cow-itch' vines, all the time minding his balance on the slippery, muddy earth. But when he reached the decrepit dam, the water inside was muddy, and its pressure not strong enough to push it to the distant communities.
"We used to have a steady spring up at the hill. If there wasn't a steady spring, you would not have this dam here. The mountains and the trees are forms of water catchments," argued Morgan.
"But from dem start dig down the place, the water is not channelling down to the dam like it supposed to, and what little water do come down is like dirt."
For another resident, who identified himself Wilfred 'Admiral' Bailey, the issue is not so much the water shortage but the dust and noise pollution from the quarry.
In recent months, he and his common-law wife, Sonia Hammond, have been sleeping for short periods as they are continuously awakened by the clanging and revving of the quarry machinery at nights.
"The water has always been a problem; it have it time when it come up and go down, so I can't talk 'bout the water for sure. But what I have a problem with is the noise; we can't sleep at night time," said Bailey.
"You are here now in the day and it not so bad. But come back in the night and is a different story. One time, dem (authorities) come and close it down, but little after that, them (CHEC) start right up back again."
Other residents complained about sewage flowing openly from a section of the quarry where some Chinese workers are housed. They say that the sewage is allowed to flow freely from the premises and across the main road to the Bailey Town district, leaving behind a pungent mid-morning odour each day.
CHEC has so far declined to comment on the allegations of the residents. However, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which is mandated to ensure that environmental breaches do not take place during mining, has told The Gleaner that it has received no complaints from the residents.
According to NEPA, CHEC has not yet been granted a permit to mine aggregate in Treadways, as quarrying of this magnitude would require an environmental permit (EP) prior to commencement of the activity.
"The determination on the EP application would be informed by geological studies to determine the availability of the target materials and the requisite methods for the extraction and use.
"The review would also seek to include information about mitigation with respect to possible environmental impacts as a result of the mining activity. Further information with respect to the eventual rehabilitation/closure of the facility would also be considered.
"Mitigation against noise and dust impacts on surrounding developments/neighbours, drainage plans to control run-off, landslide/erosion control and mitigation measures ...," said NEPA.
The agency said it was still reviewing CHEC's plan to mine in the area and has also received a phasing plan, rehabilitation plan, transportation plan (linkages to highway), landslide/erosion mitigation measures and drainage plans in support of the application.
Bailey Town and Mountain Pass are home to no more than 1,000 people, and, according to the residents, most of them are elderly farmers, as the young people have migrated because of the dearth of water and electricity there.