Cockpit Country, Jamaica: “This is an environmental and social justice issue”

There is much more to be said about the recent announcement on bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country, which I wrote about in a post earlier this week. Now environmental activist and Founder of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) Diana McCaulay (@dmccaulay) has shared her thoughts in a fairly long Twitter thread, which I am reproducing below.

There are some facts that we must always keep in mind; and there are questions that we should also keep in the forefront of our thoughts, and keep asking until (who knows?) we may get an answer. At this point, there are still many information gaps.

A bauxite haulage road being cut in Cockpit Country.

So here is Ms. McCaulay’s thread:

The Jamaican Government is a 51% shareholder of Noranda, the applicant for a mining lease and environmental permit for bauxite mining in the contested area of Cockpit Country is the Jamaican Government. The regulator is also the Jamaican Government. This is an irreconcilable conflict of interest.

Why is the Jamaican Government owning a mining company?

The 1,234 hectares of ‘released’ area – strange way to put it, what they mean is the area that will be mined – IS in Cockpit Country, as defined by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group using all relevant parameters, and the people who live there.

Yes, the area to be mined has been reduced from a potential 8,355 Hectares originally designated for bauxite mining and this is progress of a sort. But the fact is that an area of Cockpit Country is still slated for mining.

The ‘released’ area contains cockpit bottomlands of agriculture within hillsides of secondary forest growth. We need our forests standing, we need them to keep their connections and bauxite haul roads destroy those connections.

The deep bauxite soils in the bottomlands not only support agriculture today, but could support the restoration of native forests in future. Removing deep pockets of moisture-retaining soils damages this potential.

Given that an area on the western border of SML-173, near Sawyers and Level Bottom (Trelawny), was “clawed back” from mining to protect farmers, why aren’t the farmers in this ‘released’ area being given this same level of protection?

The ‘released’ area (‘sacrificed’ area) still sits over the underground water connections to the Rio Bueno and is in the watershed protection area of this river. Threat to ground water remains, especially increased risk of flash-flooding downstream.

The sacrificed area includes the communities of Barnstaple, Bryan Castle, Jackland, Richmond Pen, and Broadleaf. The Jamaicans who live there will contend with the public health/quality of life impacts. This is an environmental and social justice issue.

There were many long overdue management and monitoring initiatives announced at the stakeholder briefing on January 3, 2022, but the devil is going to be in the details. No timelines or sources of funding were stated.

Advising some members of the public and the media of this important decision very quickly after it had been made is a welcome development. I hope that this transparency trend regarding critical environmental decisions will continue.

Apart from threats to ground water, forest, soils and lives/health of those in sacrificed area, my major concern is the likelihood of compensatory areas in St Ann also being mined. No assessment of the Cockpit Country decision can be done without knowing those areas.

Twitter

Meanwhile, Executive Director of JET, Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, wrote to the Jamaica Gleaner pointing out their misinterpretation of JET’s statement as saying the Cockpit Country announcement was a “small victory.” It doesn’t really work that way, and victory doesn’t come that easy! Dr. Rodriguez-Moodie pointed out:

We would like to use this opportunity to clarify, that for us to consider a decision by the NRCA as a victory, the following would have to be done:

• The entire Cockpit Country Stakeholder Group boundary, which was recommended in a study by Webber and Noel (2013), declared as the Cockpit Country Protected Area. This area would be closed to mining, would include a buffer zone and would be gazetted for legal protection.

• The GOJ would begin urgently phasing Jamaica out of this sunset extractive industry by developing a transition plan.

Jamaica Gleaner, January 6, 2022
Yam field in Sawyers, in the Cockpit Country. (Photo: Wendy Lee/Protect Jamaica’s Cockpit Country Facebook page)

5 thoughts on “Cockpit Country, Jamaica: “This is an environmental and social justice issue”

  1. Interesting post. You probably already know this, but there is a great awakening of mining happening all over the world. With the push towards electric vehicles being prevalent in the very near future, old cobalt mines are being reopened. There evidently is great need for Aluminum also.

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    1. Oh yes. As I mentioned in my earlier post, our Mining Minister also recently announced that a company is prospecting for gold, etc over here. We have had bauxite mining for a long time – many years, and this particular issue in a very sensitive area of our SMALL island has been dragging on for years too. Fact is, mining on a small island such as ours is completely unsustainable!

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      1. And if I remember correctly isn’t Trelawny near MBJ? Wonder how this impacts tourism. Though I’m sure the pandemic has had an even bigger detrimental effect. Perhaps that is why the country is allowing in prospectors, a way to make up for lost tourist revenue perhaps?

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