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NEPA threatens to yank Windalco licence over Rio Cobre disaster

Published:Saturday | August 6, 2022 | 12:09 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has signalled its intent to take action against UC Rusal, the Russian company which operates Windalco, over the latest contamination of the Rio Cobre by caustic effluent from the bauxite and alumina plant.

The contamination resulted in a huge fish kill and a disruption in domestic, recreational and economic activities for several residents of Bog Walk Gorge and surrounding communities.

NEPA CEO Peter Knight on Friday said that the sanctions could include a suspension of Windalco’s environmental permit.

“The Natural Resources Conservation Authority/National Environment and Planning Agency is resolute and unwavering in its requirement for the company to commit to full compliance or face the legal consequences,” said Knight.

Adding that UC Rusal “has been given enough time to comply with the terms and conditions of its operating environmental permits and environmental licences”, he said that the agency will pursue all enforcement and legal actions at its disposal.

Knight said that the company would be served with a notice of intention to suspend its environmental permit and environmental licence.

In January, Windalco broke ground for the year-long construction of a 660,000 cubic metres effluent pond to add to its existing 810,000 cubic metres holding pond, saying that the expanded facility would prevent future spills after a number of breaches over the years.

Knight said that in a bid to hold the company to the December completion date, the notice of intention will be predicated on the immediate reduction of the volume of trade effluent being held in the effluent holding pond, fast-tracking the completion of the second pond, replenishment of the environmental performance bond and restriction on the operation of existing environmental permits for mining operations recently awarded to the company until the effluent holding pond is completed.

He added that the agency intends to draw down on the full amount of the environmental performance bond currently valued at US$771,515 (approximately J$117.7 million).

“The agency is considering whether there needs to be a revaluation of the environmental performance bond and the terms associated with its operation,” Knight added.

NEPA plans to pursue court action against Windalco for breaches of the Wildlife Protection Act and the National Resources Conservation Authority Act, Knight said.

UC Rusal and NEPA representatives will meet on Monday to discuss the way forward.