Enough is enough!
THE EDITOR, Madam:
Last year, August 2, 2021, residents of Kent Village, St Catherine, woke to the sight of dead fish floating in the Rio Cobre. Heavy rain had caused the holding pond at the bauxite-alumina processing plant at Ewarton to overflow, poisoning the water used for domestic and irrigation purposes and killing thousands of fish.
A release from Windalco, the bauxite plant owned and operated by UC Rusal, claimed they were not the cause of the fish kill, but acknowledged that their holding pond did overflow.
There was outrage by many. The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) called for harsher penalties to deter such breaches. Under the Wild Life Protection Act, the fines are up to J$100,000 and under the Natural Resources Conservation Act (NRCA), the fine is up J$50,000. This is simply not enough to deter environmental offenders.
Windalco has reportedly committed at least four similar offences in the last decade. At the time of the 2021 occurrence, they were in court for causing a fish kill in the Rio Cobre in 2019, which is still in progress. In a Gleaner article on September 26, 2021, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) stated they would not revoke Windalco’s environmental permits or licences to discharge.
It is worth pointing out that Windalco’s Licence to Discharge Trade Effluent, issued by the NRCA in 2014, allows for uncontrolled effluent discharge into the river during periods of heavy rainfall. This is a government-sanctioned act.
Almost a year to the day later, on July 30, 2022, the residents of Kent Village again awoke to find a brown river and thousands of dead fish floating. In a statement published by The Gleaner on (July 30, 2022), Windalco said they regretted any inconvenience caused. How could the company’s management consider the livelihoods of fishers and community members and disruption of the primary water supply for irrigation and potable water for St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew a mere inconvenience?
The Government of Jamaica has once again promised harsher penalties and fines for environmental breaches. They have also promised compensation for those most directly affected by this devastating event, apparently via the drawdown of an environmental bond.
For years, NEPA has indicated that Windalco has been required to construct larger holding ponds and/or a treatment facility to prevent pollution impacts to the Rio Cobre – what is the status of this? Has the company been given a timeline for completion? Is this the most appropriate long-term solution?
The Government needs to urgently institute harsher penalties and increased fines for environmental offenders and significantly improve environmental management and enforcement.
Enough is enough! It is high time we stop talking and start acting. Our future and our children’s future depend on a healthy environment.
DR THERESA RODRIGUEZ-MOODIE
CEO, Jamaica Environment Trust