Business

Rio Minho sand miners face joblessness

BY KARENA BENNETT Business reporter bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 29, 2014    

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SAND miners along the Rio Minho River in Clarendon may soon be left without a livelihood.

Their operations were shut down last week by the Mines and Geology Division (MGD).

A change in rainfall patterns compounded by the ongoing drought, was hurting production in the area, where the amount of sand mined fell by up to 40 per cent since the start of the year.

It's also the reason the MGD suspended operations there -- to stop the depletion of the resource and to give the river enough time to accummulate more sand.

The regulator suggests that miners of Rio Minho consider other possibilities.

"Sand would have been deposited on river terraces, so we are asking operators to do the necessary search and where we would have identified those, then they could be accessed," said commissioner of mines, Clinton Thompson.

He also recommended that the miners consider quarrying stone, which can be crushed into sand.

That's hardly a fair trade-off for some.

"The equipment for crushing stones is not cheap and it's hard to find persons to sell stones to," said a sand miner who declined to give his name. "If I mine stones from the rivers and decide to sell it to an aggregates company, they are not going to give me what I would have earned selling sand."

"Yes, we could try to find sand on river banks in Clarendon," said another miner who gave his name as Rocky, "but what do we do when that runs out? And what if the large businesses decide not to form partnerships with us?"

Presently, there are six stone -crushing companies in operation in Jamaica.

Some of the largest aggregate producers already have their own quarries from which they retrieve stones for crushing.

Other producers stopped crushing stones altogether because of rising energy costs.

"There's a lot of cost associated with setting up stone-crushing operations," said Omar Walker, plant manager at Coast to Coast Quarries Limited. "Stone crushing takes a lot more time and uses very expensive equipment rather than just mining sand from river beds and will definitely lead to an increase in the price of sand."

Coast to Coast operates along the Yallahs River in St Thomas. Low rainfall has not yet depleted the sand available in the eastern parish. But Walker has noticed that mining has shifted farther up the river to find sand. This has resulted in higher haulage costs.

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