No Mining

Government sides with environmentalists on cockpit country, foregoes billions in earnings

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



THE Government yesterday declared its decision to ban mining in the Cockpit Country areas of rural St Elizabeth and Trelawny.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in making the announcement in a statement to the House of Representatives, said that his Government has declared that no mining will be permitted in the Cockpit Country Protected Area.

“In this regard, the Mining Act and any existing mining licences will be amended to close these areas to mining,” Holness said.

“The area is too valuable in terms of its ecological and hydrological importance and uniqueness to allow mining, which may result in permanent and irreversible harm, and deprive future generations of the benefit of the national asset,” Holness added.

He admitted that the decision to forego the exploitation of the area would cost the country “millions of tonnes of high-grade bauxite and limestone with potential earnings of billions of United States dollars”. However, he said that the Government could not put a price tag on the loss to the country's water resources and biodiversity.

In terms of settling the boundaries of the Cockpit Country, Holness said that the area to be protected will include the existing forest reserves, significant hydrological features and cultural and heritage sites.

He also noted that the 2005 boundary determined by geologist Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr has been recognised by the Cabinet as the boundary of the Cockpit Country, and will be declared and gazetted.

In relation to the hydrological resources, he said that the Water Resources Authority (WRA) has identified and advised the Cabinet on hydrological features within the environs of the Cockpit Country, which require protection. He noted that, in this regard, caves in the north east, in the Rio Bueno watershed and the north-west have been included in the protected area.

With regard to the forested area, he said that the Cabinet has decided to extend the existing Cockpit Country, Lichtfield-Matheson's Run, and the Fyffe and Rankine forest reserves to take in the broadleaf forests which are in close proximity to these areas.

In relation to the historical and cultural sites within the area, he said that the ministry with responsibility for culture and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) have advised that sufficient safeguards exist under the Jamaica National Heritage Trust Act to protect the cultural and historical sites and artefacts in the area. However, he said that the Government has gone further to request the portfolio ministry with responsibility for culture to fast-track the identification of other important cultural/historical sites and artefacts in the area with a view to protecting them under the law.

“In addition, the ministry has been asked to seek the nomination of the Cockpit Country Protected Area as a world heritage site under UNESCO,” Holness stated.

“We are therefore protecting the 'core Cockpit', that is the areas that have not been degraded and occupied by irreversible human activities, as well as the forests' flora and fauna that subsist on the core...or surround the boundary of the Cockpit Country and the Cockpit Country Protected Area,” he said.

Holness added that in order to ensure the effective management of the protected area, and in recognition of the rights of private landowners, the Government intends to continue to partner with private landowners, local groups and other stakeholders, including the Accompong Maroons, in the development of a comprehensive management plan for the area.

Implementation of this plan will require dedicated resources from the national budget as well as donor support, and will be subject to Cabinet approval, following which it will be tabled in Parliament.

“I would like to take this opportunity to encourage private landowners with forest, within the environs of the Cockpit Country, to take advantage of the incentive of remission of property tax, provided in the Forest Act by declaring these forested lands as forest reserves or forest management areas,” he said.

The Government's actions were in response to a “Save the Cockpit Country” petition launched in August by the Jamaica Environmental Trust on the Office of the Prime Minister website, which surpassed the required 15,000 signatures a full week before its September 30 deadline. The petition outlined that the area was Jamaica's largest remaining natural forest, which stores and releases fresh water via almost 40 rivers, streams, springs, and ponds and supplies about 40 per cent of western Jamaica's water needs.

— See related story on Page 16

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