Jamaica’s Cockpit Country back on the front burner

A section of the Cockpit Country (File photo)
A section of the Cockpit Country (File photo)

Last week in the news, there was much talk about Jamaica’s Cockpit Country and the threat of bauxite mining in the area — a matter that has remained unresolved for too long.

Civil society stakeholders — among them the late, great journalist and environmental advocate John Maxwell — have, as far back as seven years ago, called on Government to declare a boundary for the Cockpit Country — which teems with life from an abundance of flora and fauna while providing some 40 per cent of the Jamaican population with freshwater, among other things.

This, so as to inform any development, if any, within the area, once officially designated. Government, in turn — recognising the value of the Cockpit Country — gave the undertaking not to allow any mining in the area, pending the designation.

But last week a civil society actor in the person of Mike Schwartz, head of the Windsor Research Centre, caught on camera some activity indicating that mining was underway in the area or would be in short order.

His organisation, in tandem with the Jamaica Environment Trust, issued a press release (see full text below) denouncing Government for secretly trying to begin mining in the area.

Other stakeholders are in full agreement, noting that no one is truly served by the failure to designate a boundary.

Hugh Dixon (Photo contributed)
Hugh Dixon (Photo contributed)

“It is a classic case of state deception… But as I had suspected long ago, they have been pussyfooting around this issue of declaring the boundary because they literally want to get into the Cockpit Country before there is any clear demarcation,” said Hugh Dixon, head of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency.

“…The outcome is that we will all feel the consequences of the error of our poor government ways,” he added.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether, in fact, the company — Norando Bauxite — is mining or preparing to mining. However, whatever they are doing, they are legally permitted to do so, as reflected in their own press release on the matter (see full text below).

To get caught up on developments with this story, here are a few links:

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20150520/cockpit-country-stakeholders-brace-resist-mining#.VV0WCUKLKyg.twitter

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Ministry-calls-off-press-conference-on-Cockpit-Country_18982094

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cockpit-Incursion-_18971087

WINDSOR PRESS RELEASE

Issued: Monday, May 18th, 2015

Headline: NORANDA INVADES COCKPIT COUNTRY: 

Windsor Research Centre (WRC), which is located five kilometers inside Cockpit Country, is appalled to discover that Noranda Bauxite Ltd has invaded Cockpit Country. 

“No Mining in Cockpit Country”!  That is what the public has been saying since 2006 and it is what Government of Jamaica (GoJ) has been promising us.  But… within the last two weeks, Noranda has crossed the Cockpit Country boundary with a Haul Road in preparation for mining.  How can this be?

 Here is what we know so far:

  • This breach is taking place right now, near Bryan Castle in St Ann at the Madras / Caledonia crossroad.  We observed it yesterday (17th May 2015) and took photographs (see attached).
  • Noranda has a Special Mining Lease (SML) # 165 inherited from St Ann Bauxite Ltd and dated October 2004. This allows them to mine up to the eastern boundary of Cockpit Country (see attached map) and it is valid until 2030.
  • The new Haul Road is outside the SML 165 and is penetrating so-called “Special Reserves”, which are inside Cockpit Country. According to SML 165, these reserves are to be used only if it turns out that there is less bauxite than predicted within the said SML.  In this case the Minister must grant the Lessee a new SML.

We therefore ask GoJ to clarify the basis upon which they are allowing Noranda to mine the Special Reserves. 

  • Is the bauxite in SML 165 finished?
  • If so, how could it be that the bauxite in SML 165 is already finished after only 10 years out of a 26-year Lease?
  • Was a new Special Mining Lease issued? 
  • If so, what account was taken of the importance of the Cockpit Country’s natural and cultural heritage and the still unresolved issue of the boundary?
  • Was an Environmental Permit requested or obtained?
  • Was an Environmental Impact Assessment carried out?

WRC calls upon GoJ to refer to its own study, “Public Consultations on Defining The Boundaries of Cockpit Country” which was commissioned from University of the West Indies (UWI) and published in 2013; we call upon the Minister of Land Water Environment and Climate Change, the Hon. Robert Pickersgill, to declare the boundaries of Cockpit Country, as recommended by the Public Consultations and we ask that Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, the Hon. Phillip Paulwell, close Cockpit Country to mining in line with GoJ’s assurances.

– END –

ORANDO PRESS RELEASE

Issued: May 19, 2015

Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners has not conducted mining operations outside of St. Ann or outside of areas authorized by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) and the Commissioner of Mines.

The company has received all necessary permits for the area that we are mining. Other areas may require different permits, but Noranda has not conducted mining operations in those areas.

Noranda has and continues to comply fully with its agreements with and authorisations from the Government of Jamaica, the Commissioner of Mines, and the JBI.

— END—

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Author:

I am a Jamaican journalist, writer, development worker and nascent 'social media student'. I have had a longstanding interest in environmental reporting, thanks in part to my first editor and good friend, Charmaine Clarke, who threw me, head first, into the coverage of same. I have no regrets.

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