Cockpit Country: Government decides to permit a reduced mining area, but concerns remain

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) announced yesterday (January 3, 2022) that a reduced area will be offered to the Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II for mining close to the Cockpit Country under the highly controversial Special Mining Licence (SML) 173. Here’s the full text of NEPA CEO Peter Knight’s statement. This will exclude the Madras area, and the school perched on the edge of a mining area that had caused particular concern, according to NEPA, who say this will limit “dusting– why don’t they just call it air pollution? The area will be “at least 1.6 kilometers away” from mining operations, said NEPA’s Senior Manager of the Environmental Management Sub-division, Richard Nelson, on radio.

Executive Director of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency, Hugh Dixon, who has been campaigning for years against bauxite mining, expressed disappointment. He claims that the permit for Noranda will result in the “incremental destruction of Cockpit Country over a period of 25 years.” He also expressed considerable doubt as to the monitoring capacity of NEPA to oversee the mining – based on past experience.

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) responded today with a statement, below (I highlighted a couple of points myself in bold):

January 4, 2022

Progress, but not victory: JET acknowledges the recent NRCA decision on SML 173  

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) notes the announcement made on January 3, 2022 by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to reduce the area in Cockpit Country to be mined under SML 173 as progress, but not victory.

The Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) approved the release of 1,324 hectares for mining to Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II – exclusively in the parish of St. Ann. No environmental permit has yet been granted. The original application for the environmental permit for mining and quarrying in 2018 for SML 173 was for a total of 8,335 hectares. This was later reduced to 6,163 hectares after the removal of the ‘clawed-back area’.

In 2006, the only areas protected in Cockpit Country were the forest reserves. Eleven years later, in November 2017, after much hard work and advocacy by many stakeholders, including those who live in Cockpit Country, the Government of Jamaica declared 74,726 hectares protected by the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA), omitting the approximately, 8,550 hectares of SML 173.  

The designated Cockpit Country Protected Area with existing mining leases and prospecting licenses.

JET remains concerned, however, that Noranda may be offered additional compensatory land in St. Ann. The CEO of JET, Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie said, “This is our major concern – that the significant impacts of bauxite mining, displacement, loss of livelihoods, threats to water supplies, loss of biodiversity including reduction of soil fertility, public health impacts will just be transferred elsewhere. Until we know these details, it is impossible to fully assess what this decision means for Jamaica”.

The following are some of JET’s additional concerns:

         i.            The area to be mined is in the Rio Bueno watershed and is forested. Secondary forest is still forest. The area sits over the established underground waterflows from south to north and is bordered by a major fault on the western side with implications for hydrology which needs to be fully understood.

       ii.            The management initiatives announced cannot be evaluated in the absence of further detail.  For example, what is the size of the performance bond? Who will develop the compensation mechanism for affected livelihoods and when; who will oversee this for transparency? When will the health impact study begin, who will pay for it, and will it be publicly available?

     iii.            The area excluded from mining, specifically the forest reserves and ‘clawed back’ area, should now be included in the CCPA so that it will no longer be under threat of a new mining application. Four years after the declaration of the CCPA, this vitally important protected area has still not been legally gazetted. We believe urgent action on this is of paramount importance.

     iv.            We reject that Noranda be allowed to reapply to mine other areas after the initial five-year environment permit. We understand that it is the Mines and Geology Division (MGD) who will determine whether the boundary of SML 173 is to be revised and we insist that this is necessary and should be done immediately.

       v.            We would like to know when the buffer zone will be declared.

     vi.            The restoration guidelines for mined areas should also be revised.

The bauxite-alumina industry in Jamaica is considered by JET and other stakeholders a sunset industry. JET would like to see the urgent development of a transition plan for this extractive industry. While we acknowledge that the industry did bring some benefits to Jamaica in its early years, JET’s most recent study RED DIRT found its costs now far exceed its benefits. Finally, we understand that Noranda has a right to appeal this decision under the NRCA Act but we sincerely hope that the Prime Minister will uphold the NRCA decision.

End of press release.

Bauxite mining in St. Ann. (Photo: JET)

The Opposition People’s National Party also had something to say about the decision. It is “disappointed.” In a press statement it quoted the very sharp Spokesperson on Land Environment and Mining, Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns as saying:

Although the permit is for a smaller parcel of land than requested, we believe the decision of the environmental regulator is counter to its mandate to protect and preserve Jamaica’s environment, including the sensitive and important Cockpit Country…

The role that the Cockpit Country plays in Jamaica’s survival and our way of life must not be taken lightly…If the Cockpit Country is not preserved, the long-term consequences for Jamaica could be devastating.

People’s National Party website: pnp.org.jm

I agree with Senator Frazer-Binns’ recommendation that a committee should be formed to examine alternatives to bauxite mining. It’s time to phase out bauxite mining in Jamaica. Its sun is setting.

Our Minister of Mining Robert Montague is not done yet, however. A company called Geophysx Jamaica Limited, which is licensed by the Ministry and by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to explore for various metals (copper, gold, zinc, and more) has shown “positive indications.” So far as I know, the company has licenses to explore in six parishes and exclusive rights if it finds anything, so they are eagerly scouring the island, using the latest in high-tech equipment, to see what they can find. According to their Instagram account, they are focused on “climate smart mining” (that’s one of their hashtags). How does that work, I wonder? Geophysx is conducting the “largest, yet most environmentally aware” survey of the entire island, while doing some drilling.

Stay tuned! Says the Minister. He is excited.

Is the unsustainable activity of mining really our future? Two years ago, a Canadian firm, Carube Copper Corporation, said it had found gold and was planning to drill. I am not sure what has happened subsequently. Perhaps they realized they could not make enough money.

Gold mining involves the use of arsenic and other poisons. Our last foray into gold mining, in Pennants, Clarendon, was fairly disastrous. The Australian company involved did not stay long, but left a trail of pollution and toxic chemicals in its wake, without cleaning up properly.

Nevertheless, we are determined to press on with our extractive industries.

As if this isn’t bad enough – meanwhile, the specter of deep sea mining looms. Do read this article and let it sink in. Last summer, the tiny Pacific island of Nauru announced its intentions at the annual meeting of the International Seabed Authority (headquartered right here in Kingston, Jamaica), as follows:

In late June, the island republic of Nauru informed the International Seabed Authority (ISA) based in Kingston, Jamaica of its intention to start mining the seabed in two years’ time via a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, The Metals Company (TMC, until recently known as DeepGreen). Innocuous as it sounds, this note was a starting gun for a resource race on the planet’s last vast frontier: the abyssal plains that stretch between continental shelves deep below the oceans.

The UK Guardian, September 27, 2021

One more thing – I am just remembering that lovely meeting held in a Scottish city some two months or so ago. What was it called, again? Oh, COP26! It already seems lost in those famous Scottish mists, so far away!

Oh! What fine words were spoken there!

But I have a question: how does expanding mining exploration enhance our efforts to combat climate change, exactly? How does hanging desperately onto bauxite mining, to the detriment of our rural communities, our forests (oh, only secondary forests, so no big deal!) our air quality, and our soils – how does all this fit in with our worthy declarations in Glasgow? Last time I checked, bauxite mining was the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Jamaica.

Here’s a footnote from JET, on their Facebook page:

Have you ever considered the real costs of the bauxite-alumina industry in Jamaica? We often hear about the economic benefits, but decades of mining have had significant costs on the environment and the communities that depend on the environment for clean air, water, food and protection. Despite this, little has been done to quantify these costs. With mining and prospecting set to continue, JET is using it’s 2020 study, RED DIRT, to highlight these findings and gaps.Visit www.jamentrust.org to view RED DIRT: A Multidisciplinary Review of the Bauxite-Alumina Industry in Jamaica.

Jamaica Environment Trust on Facebook

More anon!

The school in St. Ann that raised concerns. (Photo: JET)

5 thoughts on “Cockpit Country: Government decides to permit a reduced mining area, but concerns remain

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