Local environmentalists have been energised in their lobbying efforts in recent weeks amid reports of plans to carry out mining and exploration for
bauxite in the Cockpit Country.
Two days ago, the Government's official information arm, the Jamaica Information Service, posted a notice on its website quoting Parris Lyew-Ayee, executive director of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) as saying it had no plans to mine bauxite in the Cockpit Country.
The JBI also said the granting of a special exclusive prospecting licence (SEPL) to Jamalco would not include such a right.
It is unfortunate that a controversy had to rage for weeks before Jamaicans could be assured - at least by way of an official statement - what the Government's position is.
Indeed, the JBI's statement would seem to concede that the recent application by Jamalco for the renewal of its licence to prospect for bauxite in the vicinity of the Cockpit Country, in the south-central part of Trelawny, could have fuelled the controversy.
But even as he dismissed fears that this prospecting work would involve the building of roads in the Cockpit Country as well as the despoiling of the environment and the groundwater regime, Mr. Lyew-Ayee's
assurance was not unequivocal.
According the JIS posting, he said that "any" prospecting work would use modern technologies, which cause no more impact than caused by the expedition of zoologists, botanists, geologists and bird watchers, who regularly go through the area.
Equally ambiguous is the executive director saying not only is there no plan to mine in the Cockpit Country, but "if the results from the exploration work are favourable, the earliest time foreseen for any mining there is almost 20 years from now." So which is it? Is the Cockpit Country out of bounds altogether or just for now?
The mining of bauxite has played a very important role in Jamaica's economic development over many decades. The ecological and human costs have yet to be determined, however. And, there has been a slow move towards fulfilling the promises to reclaim mined-out land to re-convert them to agricultural purposes. It is therefore imperative that any new exploration be carefully planned and monitored to ensure that at the end of the day Jamaica and Jamaicans are not worse off.
Of course, awareness of the environmental issues have increased significantly to when the initial mining was done decades ago. With environmental issues being a major cause célébre for activists, the stage is set for much controversy.
The Government should speak to the issues frankly, clearly and in a timely manner. If it is convinced that mining can be done in some areas without attendant adverse impact on the environment, it should say so and provide reasons for its position.
As the JBI executive director has pointed out, there are important cultural and historical aspects associated with the Cockpit Country and it is important that we protect them. Indeed, we note his reference to the importance of all the stakeholders, including environmentalists, working together to ensure that the best interests of the country and the area are protected. We fully endorse those sentiments.
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