Barrington Flemming, Gleaner Writer
RONALD EDWARDS, the deputy chief commissioner of the Geology and Mines Division, has shot down claims by residents and the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) that the Government is making preparations for the quarrying of limestone in the Cockpit Country.
Hugh Dixon, executive director of the STEA, said his agency and residents within the communities of the Cockpit Country became concerned after they observed representatives from the Geology Division taking samples of limestone in the area.
"We suspect that prospecting leases may have been issued for quarrying as people have been taking samples in the areas such as the Alps, and residents as well as the agency have been expressing concern, because protection of the area is at the forefront," said Dixon. "Projects have been implemented which are bringing economic benefits to the area."
However, Edwards said there is no truth to claims that prospecting leases have been issued or are being considered.
"The Government has been conducting research of limestone deposits all across the island to update our geological data, so our involvement in the area was to take samples to update the information that we have on limestone and other natural resources across the island," stated Edwards.
CLEAR THE AIR
He also sought to clear the air on what Dixon said were lingering concerns that bauxite prospecting licences could be issued for the area, which has rich bauxite deposits.
"The Cockpit Country, as it is, is still to be defined. So we are yet to establish where are the limits and, until that is defined, there can be no issuing of prospecting licences," said Edwards. "We are having serious ongoing discussions, so we do not have a timetable as to when the boundaries would be clearly earmarked."
However, Dixon is adamant that the boundaries have been defined, stating that it was done under a previous People's National Party administration. He said the work and completed copy of the document should be in the office of the Forestry Department.
"The Cockpit Country is approximately 1,200 square feet of forest reserve, and privately owned land," said Dixon. "The majority of it is in South Trelawny; some in Balaclava and Maggotty, St Elizabeth; a small portion in Manchester, a section in Elderslie, Niagara, Maroon Town and Flagstaff, in St James; and Mattison Run in St Ann."
According to Dixon, defining the area is not rocket science, noting that what is needed is a government with the will to say that there is a resource that is globally recognised, and then take steps to harness its economic potential and protect it.
"What we need is a White Paper in Parliament that says this area is protected and that permits would be required to operate in there," declared Dixon. "I think, the sooner we do that, the better we will be as we seek to protect and sustain economic viability of the area."