Bauxite mining puts St Ann villages in a spin

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 08, 2019

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Residents of Nip Street district in Gibraltar, St Ann, are nervous that the bauxite mining currently taking place in their community will not only displace farmers, but could possibly force them to leave the area altogether.

Having witnessed the aftermath of mining in the neighbouring communities of Caledonia and Lime Tree Gardens, where they say the majority of persons had to migrate to nearby town centres, residents of Gibraltar are worried that this too could be their fate.

“Caledonia is practically a dead community, and it is because of the mining. If you look at most of the buildings, you see that they are empty — just a few persons left,” principal of the Gibraltar All-Age School Shurnette Brown-Jack told the Jamaica Observer during a visit to the area last Wednesday.

“Lime Tree Gardens also used to be a big community, and then since the mining started there most of the persons who lived there migrated. The school population has fallen,” said Brown-Jack.

Her predecessor and active community organiser, Ivy Walton told the Sunday Observer that in previous years of mining, private land owners from Caledonia sold their property to the Kaiser Bauxite Company and had long migrated, leaving the remnants of a once thriving farming district.

The retired principal said that most of the residents have resettled primarily in the nearby town centre of Brown's Town.

“Those persons who were on the government land, they had to move out, and the ones who sold the land, they didn't have anywhere to live. It is just a few persons who live on the hill who are still there.

“Right now Lime Tree Garden is a very small community because all of Lime Tree Garden has been mined out. If they come and mine out the land, where are we going to live? The people have to move to Brown's Town to look work because as you see, this is a rural community and is basically farming that the people do, and if their livelihood is gone they have to migrate to look after their family,” said Walton.

The possibility of relocation, therefore, was a major concern for residents. Bishop Robert Clarke of the Gibraltar Church of Christ told the Sunday Observer that he is concerned that, as with Caledonia, the mining will disrupt the social fabric of the community.

“They haven't removed anybody in Gibraltar as yet, but I have heard that it is a possibility that they are going to relocate some people. That is what we don't want. It is going to affect the school population, the churches, and various groups so, we are strongly against any form of relocation,” said Bishop Clarke.

Gibraltar is one of several communities in St Ann that fall under Special Mining Lease 172 (SML72) granted to the Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partnership, and is located about 42 kilometres from the border of the demarcated, but yet to be gazetted, Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA).

Farmers there complained that, already, the mining has displaced them from lands they have farmed for years, robbing them of their livelihood. Long time yam and potato farmer, Walter Edlin, 69, told the Sunday Observer that he is now pondering his next move.

“The land that I used to farm, Kaiser deh pon it right now,” said Edlin in reference to the previously named Kaiser Bauxite Company, now called the Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Company.

“Them sell the land and take it away from us, and we had to move. Noranda put up notice say we had to move from about last year, and them take control of it. We don't know whats next because them not giving us any land fi raise no animal or to farm. Only the hills we can look to right now because we have nowhere else to go. Yesterday them push it [top soil] off and mi have fi move the cow them off it,” said the frustrated farmer.

Farmers also complained about the poor condition in which previously mined sites in the community have been left, forecasting that the same will happen in Gibraltar. Henry McLeod, another farmer from the community told the Sunday Observer that those lands were no longer viable for farming.

“After them finish mine out the land, we not going to have anything to live off of. From them put likkle fowl dung on it and some grass come up, nothing grow on it after that,” said the elderly farmer.

“That is our problem now. When they reclaim the land, they leave it almost the same depth as where they mined it to, and all that can grow on it is grass. We have a lot of children in the community who go to high school and farming is the livelihood of the people. If they reclaimed the land properly so that we can get it back to plant on it, then it wouldn't be so bad,” said McLeod.

Donovan Richards, one of the younger residents from Nip Street district who spoke with the Sunday Observer, said he too had to move from Caledonia to that section of the community.

“That piece of land used to be our ball field,” pointed Richards as we drove past an old mining site in the community. “This community mine back to front. Majority of the people sell them land and move to Browns Town.

“Some people take the money, but at the end of the day, every year you would have your farming to depend on, and this little money will not be a every year thing. And remember they can't even go back to the farm because the land is useless after them finish with it,” said Richards, also a farmer and carpenter by trade. He explained further that the elderly were most at risk for losing their livelihood.

“The mining is bad for the farmers, especially for the elderly. For most of the elderly men in the community, is the farming that they live on because them don't have a trade like we the younger guys; the farming is their trade.”

Richards also said that so far, the mining has created a dust nuisance for which Noranda has been issuing quarterly cheques for upwards of $8,000. However, another concern was the possible effects on old grave sites that are also to be removed.

“I recently start getting the $8,500 for the dust. But we have graves that are over here before even my grandparents them born. A lot of these people died from cholera and all type of sickness. What is going to happen to us when they dig up these graves and the dust go up into the air? And remember we don't have running water, we have to catch water and store it in tanks and drums. When that dust goes up and pollutes the air and come back down, what is going to happen to us? That is my biggest concern,” said Richards.

“The mining should not start in the first place. They say the land is theirs, but we in the community should get some good answers about how we are going to benefit when they take away the land we use to farm, before they come in and start the mining,” said Richards.


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