'Cockpit Country not secured,' says Dixon

Sunday, September 15, 2019

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Excutive director of the Sourthern Trelawny Environmental Agency, Hugh Dixon is chiding the Forestry Department and the g overnment for failing to secure a buffer zone for the eastern boundary of the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA).

Jutting through the pristine hills of south-east Trelawny is the narrow main road that runs northerly from Albert Town to Jackson Town, all the way to the island's north coast where farmers in the parish go to sell their produce.

Known also by locals as the “ring road”, it runs further around the Cockpit Country, forming a boundary of sorts surrounding the core of the Cockpit's primary forest.

According to Dixon, the narrow roadway is the only buffer between the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) and the designated 8,335 hectares of land now available to Noranda under special mining lease (SML) 173.

“This makes no sense! According to the pegs, on one side of the road you have the protected area and on the other side is the special mining lease area 173. They ground-truthed and permanently marked the first 83 kilometres, starting down in Jackson Town and ending here in Albert Town, now making the roadway the buffer and the eastern boundary for the Cockpit Country Protected Area,” said Dixon in an interview with the Jamaica Observer

In November 2017, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that mining would not be allowed within the approximately 76,000 hectares of the CCPA, which includes existing forest reserves, significant hydrological and ecological features, and cultural heritage sites.

At last check, the Forestry Department was to undertake a ground-truthing exercise to align the boundaries on the proposed map with the actual landmarks. A progress report obtained from the Forestry Department revealed that 102 km of the entire area has been ground-truthed, with a remaining 147.77 be completed.

The latest estimated parametre of the area to be declared protected in the Cockpit Country is 249.77km encompassing approximately 76,459 hectares. The estimates will be confirmed on completion of the ground truthing exercise.

The agency is scheduled to complete the ground-truthing exercise in December 2020. To date, 242 concrete monuments have been laid across 50 km using the geo-referenced points. The laying of the monuments commenced on June 5, 2019.

Dixon argued that the current demarcation of the eastern boundary does not protect the core of the Cockpit Country, since the effects of mining will spread to the CCPA. He said the main road, approximately 20 feet, cannot be considered a sufficient buffer.

“There needs to be a buffer zone because when they mine SML area 173, the effect of the mining is going to destroy at least two miles into the Cockpit Country Protected Area. Furthermore, they insist that they are not mining in the Cockpit Country, but all of this is Cockpit Country — including this area that is now special mining lease area 173,” said Dixon.

Noranda Bauxite, in a statement issued on September 7, maintained that there is no mining taking place in the Cockpit Country, adding that of the 8,335 hectares under SML area 173, only 15 per cent will be mined for bauxite.

Dixon debunked this claim, arguing that that 15 per cent is really all that can be mined, since the rest of the area consists of hills or broadleaf coverage, which was never intended for mining in the first place.

“Noranda is saying that they won't mine more than 15 per cent of the SML area 173, but what that means is that they are not going to mine the hillocks (hills). What they are interested in are the flat spaces in-between the hillocks, called bottom lands, that are found in the outer part of the Cockpit Country, or what is known as the transition zone.

“They knock down some of it to build the road to get to the bottom lands and leave the rest and claim that they have left broadleaf cover, which is on the hills. But they really can't get more than 15 per cent — It is only the 15 per cent they can get in bottom lands, which really [in reality]100 per cent of what they want that they are taking out,” said Dixon.

He also stated that the current demarcation serves to secure the boundary for the special mining lease of area 173, slated for mining in the coming months.

“The Jamaica Bauxite Institute, for years now, has made it clear that the best-quality bauxite is in the north-eastern Cockpit Country, which is effectively special mining lease area 173,” said Dixon.


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