Tue | Jun 28, 2022

Raft captains claim mining threatens Rio Grande attraction

Published:Thursday | June 23, 2022 | 12:09 AMGareth Davis Sr/Gleaner Writer
Lawmakers and mining and environmental officials assess the Rio Grande during a tour of the Portland river on Tuesday.
Lawmakers and mining and environmental officials assess the Rio Grande during a tour of the Portland river on Tuesday.

There is growing tension between sand miners and the operators of Rio Grande Rafting, with the latter complaining that mining activities are threatening to disrupt business at Portland’s premier tourist attraction.

Accompanied by representatives from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Ministry of Mining, Cabinet Minister Matthew Samuda and Portland Eastern Member of Parliament Ann-Marie Vaz met with concerned residents, raft captains and business interests recently to hear the concerns.

“Today, we are looking first-hand at the issues and the concerns and we are liaising with the residents as to how they feel about the mining taking place in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Samuda, who is a minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

“No resident’s concern should be ignored, so we have come with a full team to examine what is taking place. Obviously, there are some things that we’ll have to discuss after this. We’ve seen some concerns and we’ve seen some things that also should continue,” he added.

“Jamaica has provided us with a lush, beautiful, well-resourced natural environment and we expect that people will use it for economic gain. We do, however, have to ensure that all elements of the economy interact with the environment in a particular way. We are looking for the solutions in a manner that allow persons to coexist and allow commercial activity to happen within the boundaries that keeps this amazing natural resource sustained,” said Samuda.

Raft captains have been complaining for decades about the manner in which sand-mining operations are being carried out in the river. They said that instead of getting better, the situation has worsened and is threatening operations as the water becomes unsightly and harder to navigate with their bamboo vessels after being polluted with grease, gas oil, and mud.

“Mi inna dis trade ‘bout 49 years now and what mi see a gwaan pon di river nuh right,” said Justin Horne, one of the raft captains. “We need to stop this thing.”

According to the Horne, the ongoing sand-mining activities have resulted in erosion of the coastal area of St Margaret’s Bay, which he said is now vulnerable to high tide, resulting in the sea rapidly eroding land along that coast extending into Buff Bay and beyond.

Vaz said there was a need to have the issues resolved.

“It is important that all stakeholders are satisfied and we have to come up with a happy solution for everyone,” said the member of parliament.

“Rafting on the Rio Grande is a world-renowned attraction and we want to keep it that way. Rafting has been going for generations and we intend to keep it for generations to come,” added Vaz.

Commissioner of Mines Roy Nicholson, and Richard Nelson, senior manager for the environmental management subdivision at NEPA, also agreed that a solution is needed to allow rafting and mining to coexist in an environmentally friendly manner.