China Harbour Engineering Company begins rock mining without necessary approval
China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) has been ordered to stop its quarrying at a hillside in Treadways, St Catherine.
The order was issued last week by the Mines and Geology Division of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining following a tour of the quarry last Tuesday.
According to that regulatory body, CHEC, since late last year, has been illegally quarrying hillsides on lands the company purchased in that area without approval from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and other entities.
"CHEC has been carrying out quarrying at the location and it does not have the licences for that kind of quarrying," said a representative of the Mines and Geology Division, who asked not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
"We received an application from the company for the quarrying but it cannot be granted without approval from NEPA and others. Last week it was discovered that quarrying was going on and a cease-and- desist order was issued," added the source.
He said this is not the first time a stop order has been issued on quarrying operations at the site where CHEC is reportedly extracting material to be used in road construction.
But Jennifer Armond, local communications manager for CHEC, last Thursday told our news team that the company has applied and submitted the relevant documents for the licences, and it is the state agencies that are holding up the approval process.
Armond noted that the material mined from the site is being used on the Mount Rosser leg of Highway 2000, which is scheduled to be completed by January of next year.
"For the benefit of the project we submitted all the relevant documents from about July or August last year. We are still waiting on them," said Armond, explaining that the Treadways quarry enables easier access to the material needed for the highway.
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"Without that quarry, the material would have to be transported from as far away as St Thomas, which is extremely expensive," argued Armond.
"I know that the company has to remain compliant but I am not going to incriminate myself or the company in making a statement like that," responded Armond, when asked whether CHEC accepted that it was operating illegally.
Armond said she had not been informed that a stop order had been issued when she spoke with our news team last Thursday, but rejected a suggestion that this would prevent the completion of the highway by the January 2016 deadline.
The Mines and Geology Division has indicated that prior to the granting of any mining licences, there must be an inspection to assess "the scope, feasibility, environmental, social and other impacts as well as the method used to extract the material".
The application must then be approved by NEPA, the Water Resources Authority (WRA), the National Works Agency, the Ministry of Health and the parish council, among other entities, before it goes to the Quarries Advisory Committee for final approval.
"If there are complaints of any breaches following the granting of the licence, the Mines and Geology Division will instruct the licensee to take immediate actions to correct the concerns," stated the agency.
It also stated that quarries must be routinely inspected to ensure that special conditions relating to dust and noise pollution are adhered to.
In the meantime, CHEC could find itself in more trouble as the WRA has launched an investigation to determine whether the mining operation has damaged the natural water sources.
According to Geoffrey Marshall, senior hydrogeologist at the WRA, it became aware of questionable quarrying operations last month while processing a request made in 2005 by the Mountain Pass Benevolent Society to extract water from three sources in the area.
Marshall was not certain if the request made by CHEC had passed through his offices. However, he said the WRA can only get involved after NEPA has seen the application.
"The WRA went out on February 4, 2015 to investigate on the lapsed application, and in the process of that investigation encountered the activities and operations of CHEC in that area," outlined Marshall in response to Sunday Gleaner queries.
"It is possible that water to the Mountain Pass Spring has been jeopardised by quarrying activities in the region, but this cannot be stated definitely until a complete and thorough investigation has been completed,"
Marshall explained that the probe into the effects of the quarrying on the water source may result in further delays to the granting of the extraction licence to the Mountain Pass Benevolent Society - a disappointment for residents of at least three neighbouring communities which depend on the water sources for their survival.