Earth Today: Wait goes on for Cockpit Country boundary decision
WHILE the new Government of Prime Minister Andrew Holness settles in behind the reins, the public's years-long wait for a decision on a boundary for the island's ecologically valuable, historically rich, and hotly contested Cockpit Country goes on.
"We are required to prepare a brief on the status of the Cockpit Country boundary issue. The Government will be presented with the findings of the various pieces of research and consultations, and a decision will be made in due course," Chief Technical Director in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Colonel Oral Khan told The Gleaner recently.
"All matters that had not been settled by the previous administration [of the People's National Party] are open again for consideration by the new administration, and we will await directions," he added.
The wait for a decision on the boundary for the Cockpit Country a site for millions of dollars in bauxite reserves, as for invaluable biodiversity, flora and fauna, and vital ecosystem services like the provision of freshwater has been years in coming.
Over the period, local environmental actors, together with academia and other stakeholders, have researched and debated various boundary options, which include:
- The Cockpit Country Stakeholders' Group boundary that takes in St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, and Trelawny;
- The Ring Road boundary that takes in Trelawny and St Elizabeth;
- The Sweeting/University of the West Indies (UWI) boundary;
- The Maroon boundary comprising Trelawny and St Elizabeth;
- The Forestry Reserve boundary; and
- The Jamaica Bauxite Institute boundary.
Any boundary selected could mean, to varying degrees, the loss of millions of dollars in untapped bauxite ore.
Meanwhile, despite the wait, Khan suggested that there is some comfort for the public, and in particular, local environment actors who have been at the forefront of the call for a boundary decision.
"Both parties (the People's National Party who was, up to last year, in charge of the Government, and the Jamaica Labour Party, who have assumed power following the recent general election) have had a common position on that matter. They have both said there will be no mining in the Cockpit Country. Ministers in both administrations have said this. I think the environment lobby can take heart in that," he told The Gleaner.
However, for Hugh Dixon, the time for verbal commitments is past.
"All this verbal commitment sounds nice, but at the pace at which we are changing administrations and authority figures are shifting chairs, we don't have any guarantees that the verbal is sufficient. We need a policy position that is clear, resolute, and absolute," he said.
"Right now, we want to come off a tight rope of not knowing, whether someone is coming in to destroy this place because there is no regulatory framework or policy mechanism in place that secures it from whoever occupies the position of authority as Government, or minister, or political authority. As it is now, it is subject to the frivolity of individual discretion because there is no regulation in place to protect it from that," he added.