Jamaica’s private sector calls for transparency, adherence to rules in Bengal mining plans at Puerto Bueno

Today, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) expressed concern in a press release today about what seems to be a volte face by the Prime Minister on the matter of mining permits for the Bengal area of St. Ann (Puerto Bueno or Dry Harbour Mountain), which for a while appeared to have been abandoned after the company in question had once again failed to meet the requirements of the performance bond. However, the company is now going ahead – even though they had already failed to meet the terms imposed by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) not once, but twice. Well, third time lucky, it seems.

A reminder that the Holness administration recently demoted Environment and Climate Change (there is now NO ministry under that banner) to “Economic Growth and Job Creation,” under the purview of his own office, like NEPA. There is no Environment/Climate Change Minister.

The Jamaica Gleaner reports: “Given the refusal to extend the deadline for payment of the bond in March 2021, it is not clear how the NRCA proceeded to later accommodate the payment.

Questions sent on January 3 to NEPA were not answered up to press time.”

There are quite a few things that are not clear (and this is so often the problem in environmental matters; the waters get muddied, and sometimes an almost impenetrable veil of secrecy falls).

Here is the PSOJ statement of today’s date (January 21, 2021) – my highlights, not theirs. The organization does not mention the ecological value of the area, nor the impact of increased mining activities on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Nevertheless, the impact on tourism (currently in the area this is of the community tourism variety, with villas and guest houses) is not negligible.

PSOJ Calls For Transparency and Due Process for Bengal Development Plans in St Ann

The PSOJ notes recent reports about the Bengal development plans in St. Ann.

The PSOJ believes that no singular organization should benefit from the perception of preferential treatment and exemptions from stated rules, and that due process must be followed to bolster transparency and accountability.

We are advocating for strong adherence to the preconditions set out by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and transparency regarding the payments of performance bonds along with environmental controls including proper dust and water management plans. We believe that these protocols were crafted by capable technocrats within the sector to strike an effective balance between economic development and environmental protection.  

Other considerations regarding this development include the potential conflict with our island’s tourism product and growing resort investments which may be more real than perceived or contemplated. The surrounding residential communities will also be negatively impacted by environmental factors. The cost to maintain and repair the road network infrastructure due to the heightened trucking of aggregate along the North Coast Highway is also of concern.

Any previous steps to promote harmony between these areas, which are now both vested within the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation being led by the Office of the Prime Minister, will not be well-served if one concern over-rides the other with disregard for technical input of specialists.

A close-up view of the forest on Puerto Bueno Mountain, showing the endemic Euphorbia punicea with Agave. (Photo: Wendy Lee)

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