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Bauxite experts give thumbs down to Reynolds redevelopment plan

Published:Wednesday | May 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Carlton Davis.
Economist Dennis Morrison.

Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

Bauxite industry experts have given thumbs down to the proposed redevelopment of Reynolds mines in St Ann for ore export and construction of a coal-fired refinery, saying it is likely to impact negatively on the tourism product, which now dominates the economy of Ocho Rios.

Economist Dennis Morrison, a senior director of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute and current adviser to the minister of finance, says the project does not appear viable.

"I can't see that we would be exporting crude bauxite from the town of Ocho Rios," he said, adding that tourism interests are likely to protest.

Jamaica is in discussions with Chinese firm Xinfa Group on a possible deal that Energy and Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell announced in Parliament last week could lead to US$3 billion of new bauxite investments.

Paulwell said a memorandum of understanding was signed in February between Xinfa and Jamaica to restart operations at Reynolds, and that progress on the talks was expected in six months. The minister announced that a committee - led by Dr Vin Lawrence - would handle the negotiations.

Giving the outlines of the deal, Paulwell said Xinfa would be allowed to export up to 4.5 million tonnes of bauxite annually for 25 years, in the first instance, and that the Chinese firm has proposed the construction of an alumina plant with capacity of two million tonnes per annum to operate for 25 years, also in the first instance, and a coal-fired power plant to support the alumina plant.

The development would reactivate operations on lands where Reynolds - the first bauxite company to export the mineral in the 1950s - mined the ore until it shuttered operations in December 1984, this following a severe global recession which began in 1982.

Problematic location

Morrison, who is also the chairman of Jamaica Tourist Board, said restarting bauxite operations so near to the Ocho Rios would be problematic for Jamaica in its efforts to snag European tourists.

"There is some provision in European law which will not allow their tour operators to be booking visitors to the port of Ocho Rios if it is being operated as a bauxite port," he said a Gleaner Editors' Forum on Tuesday.

"The question of what happens to the reserves of Reynolds has to be seen within the context of what happens to tourism and the environment," he added.

Dr Carlton Davis, special envoy in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for consultations in the bauxite/alumina and energy sectors and who has written several books on the industry, similarly said the matter of restarting production in a resort area will be more than ticklish.

"It's a complex matter," said Davis. "The north coast is the tourist coast. If you have logistical issues of where you export from, Dennis is right, Ocho Rios is out."

Questions sent to the minister of mining on the matter of how the proposed operations by Xinfa would affect the resort area and what mitigating strategies are being considered were not answered up to press time.

"I want to assure the Jamaican people that this Government will ensure that this project is implemented according to international best practices, and be fully compliant with our environmental laws. As a first step, we were keen to appoint an environmentalist to the negotiating team," Paulwell said in Parliament on May 6.