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Cockpit Country stakeholders brace to resist mining

Published:Tuesday | May 19, 2015 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor

ENVIRONMENTAL stakeholders are rallying for a fight to preserve the biodiversity-rich and historically significant Cockpit Country following news there is bauxite mining afoot in the area.

The first order of business, they say, is for the Government - after more than seven years - to finally declare a boundary for the area.

"Let us hear what is the boundary ... and we will see whether they choose a boundary that is suitable to their particular interest or one that satisfies the interest of the Jamaican population and the generations to come," said Hugh Dixon, head of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency.

On the table are six boundaries, each of which has been given a dollar value by the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining, according to a document obtained by The Gleaner last year.

The boundary advanced by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders' Group - including the Windsor Research Centre and the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) - is to cost the bauxite industry the most.

That boundary, which includes St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, and Trelawny, would deny access to some 300 million tons of bauxite, valued at some US$9 billion.

The Ring Road boundary, including Trelawny and St Elizabeth, would deny access to 150 million tons, or US$4.5-billion worth of the ore, while losses incurred from the selection of the Sweeting/University of the West Indies (UWI) boundary are projected at US$4.2 billion, or 140 million tons of bauxite.

The Maroon boundary, which also comprises Trelawny and St Elizabeth, would amount to US$3 billion in losses, or 100 million tons of bauxite, while the Forestry Reserve boundary would cause a loss of US$450 million, or 15 million tons of bauxite.


decision still unclear


The boundary proposed by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute would have the least impact on access to bauxite resources, with losses estimated at US$300 million, or 10 million tons.

Still, it is unclear when a decision will be taken.

"We are still awaiting a decision from Cabinet," Colonel Oral Khan, chief technical director in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change, told The Gleaner yesterday.

However, he said his ministry would defend a boundary that demonstrates the premium placed on the Cockpit Country - including its contribution to Jamaica's water security, supplying, as it does, some 40 per cent of fresh water.

"We understand the importance of what we call the Cockpit Country and we believe that it needs to be preserved for generations to come and especially in these times where our water resources are under stress," Khan noted.

The matter has been before Cabinet since at least July last year, following public consultations on the boundaries undertaken by a team from the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the West Indies the year before.

Fast-forward almost a year and the Windsor Research Centre has reported what appears to be mining activities "near Bryan Castle in St Ann at the Madras/Caledonia Crossroad" by Noranda Bauxite.

Now, JET boss Diana McCaulay says Cockpit Country stakeholders would use the tools at their disposal to end and/or prevent any such activity in the area.

"The methods to be used are the methods by which citizens engage our government and affect what they do. They include protests of various kinds - in the media, street protests, engagement with foreign media," she said.


noranda not at fault


According to McCaulay, their grouse is not with Noranda, which, in a press release yesterday, denied conducting mining operations "outside of areas authorised by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute and the Commissioner of Mines".

"Noranda is a private-sector company that has been given permission to do what it is doing. The problem is our government, which, by the way, is the majority shareholder in our mining operations here, which has in essence given itself permission to do what it says it was not going to do," she said.

Government has long promised there would be no mining inside the Cockpit Country until a boundary was decided.Yesterday, the ministry said it would be visiting the Cockpit Country in light of the concerns raised.