Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Sand mining puts Clarendon communities at risk of flooding – Councillor

Published:Tuesday | August 10, 2021 | 12:05 AMOlivia Brown/Gleaner Writer

One Clarendon councillor is raising alarm over sand-mining activities in some sections of his division.

Uphell Purcell, councillor for the York Town division, is adamant that the mining of the Rio Minho, especially in Parnassus, poses a serious threat to lives and livelihoods.

“If we continue like this, devastation will be coming down on the people in York Town, Parnassus, and even in Vere. I am hoping solutions will come before the (flooding),” he said.

Parnassus, a community in York Town which sits closely to the Rio Minho River, remains an area of concern during heavy rains as the river is located some 200 metres from some homes. Residents often recall the deadly floods in June 1986, which saw them retrieving bodies and animals that had washed up in their community. They believe sand- mining activities have widened the river, putting them at greater risk.

“The destruction of the Rio Minho River over these numbers of years continues to be my concern. I am deeply concerned in respect of the mining of the riverbanks, which is very dangerous. If we have a hurricane or a good shower of rain, we might very well be losing several sections of the community, and it might very well cost lost lives,” Purcell warned.

“ I am hoping that the river can get back its right course, because the course of the river is far out from where the natural course was. I have always been talking and imploring with all the agencies and ask them to come out with a plan,” he said.

There are 22 licensed quarries operating in Clarendon; 11 of which are riverine operations, and 11 are on-land operations.

Paul Chin, chief executive officer of E&E Chin Sand Trucking and Aggregates Limited in York Town, says his quarry operates in compliance with the regulations of the Mines and Geology Division. After 44 years in the mining industry, he admits that the sand in the Rio Minho is now depleted. In 2014, the Mines and Geology Division instituted a clampdown on sand-mining operations along the Rio Minho, citing a severe shortage of river sand.

Chin told The Gleaner that his company has since resorted to land mining. “Ten years ago the sand sort of get limited, because we have less ‘river comedown’. No more sand not in the Rio Minho fi mash up, so we a fi deal with land. I am the man who began [land] mining in Clarendon. I am the one with the technology, so we can find more sand, “ he explained.

Chin contends that the quarries in breach are mainly those without proper equipment. Speaking on the possible threats to agriculture, Chin insists that operations at his site are conducted with the best interest of the environment in mind. “My company has an excavator and a bulldozer. We clear the site – so we push up to eight feet of dirt, remove the sand and then you reclaim the land, put back whatever material you took off and level it for agricultural purposes.”

But Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust, says the practice of sand mining poses several threats to the environment.

“[Sand mining in rivers] can increase the velocity (speed) of flow in a river or sections of a river, resulting in erosion of riverbanks, which could lead to flooding,” she said. She added that the ecosystem is sometimes disrupted, due to the removal of vegetation and destruction of the soil profile.

“It can dry out sections of the riverbed, which can result in decreased surface and groundwater, and can also result in the enlargement of river mouths and coastal inlets. Increased sedimentation in the river also affects water quality,” she said, citing oil or other discharge from trucks, and dust from sites, as other concerns.

She states that it is important for mining companies to be impressed upon to prepare and submit environmental and social management plans outlining strategies to manage or mitigate any potential negative impacts.

Roy Nicholson, the commissioner of mines, noted that inspections are conducted to ensure that legal operators are conducting activities in accordance with the conditions of their licences. “Upon inspection, if there is breach of any of the conditions of the licence, the operator is cited and instructed to correct such infraction (immediately if necessary, depending on the nature of the breach). There are cases where a short period of time is given for the correction of the observed malpractice,” he explained.

“If the operator does not comply, then the suspension of the operation is a sanction applied. The operator is not allowed to engage in bona fide quarrying activities, mainly winning and disposing of quarry material, until the breach is corrected as instructed by the inspecting officer,” he said.

Nicholson explained further that during the suspension period, assistance from the security forces is requested in monitoring operations to ensure compliance. He noted that the strategy has been useful, as it has led to arrests. He told The Gleaner that continued breaches of a quarry licence can lead to non-renewal of the licence, court appearance and/or revocation of the licence by the minister with responsibility for the mining portfolio.