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Coronavirus halts plans at JISCo/Alpart plant

BY JONATHAN MORRISON
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, February 14, 2020

NAIN, St Elizabeth — The novel coronavirus, which has left more than 1,300 people dead in China, fuelling a global health scare, is also impacting plans for the expansion and modernisation of the Chinese-owned JISCo/Alpart plant here.

Sun Jong, managing director of Jiuquan Iron and Steel (Group) Co Ltd (JISCo)/Alpart told a visiting Opposition People's National Party (PNP) delegation on Wednesday that operational activities at the plant have been seriously affected by the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in China — home to parent company JISCo. He noted that travel in and out of China to carry on company business has come to a standstill.

Chinese metals giant JISCo bought the Alpart refinery from Russian company UC Rusal in 2016. The 52-year-old plant was closed late last year to facilitate modernisation and expansion, even as high operational costs and falling prices for alumina rendered it unprofitable.

The PNP delegation, led by the party's spokesman for mining and energy Phillip Paulwell, met with JISCo officials against the backdrop of ongoing environmental concerns.

The most recent issue relates to windblown dust from the refinery's red mud lake, which contains waste from the processing of alumina from bauxite ore.

Sun told the visitors that among the company's long-term plans to reduce dust pollution is the planting of a grass cover for the mud lake. However, he said, even more critical — for the cleaner and more efficient operation of the plant — is the now delayed modernisation process for which the plant was closed late last year.

Regarding the environmental worries, the JISCo/Alpart management team told PNP representatives that it has reverted to a decades-old compensation package for those affected by windblown pollutants.

Sun and his team gave details of the old arrangements and a few new features, such as an upgraded sprinkler system to dampen the dust.

JISCo is also to take steps to address a new dust nuisance created by an uncovered stockpile of bauxite ore that is affecting communities in the neighbouring constituency of Manchester Southern. Hours before the arrival of the PNP delegation on Wednesday, residents from the area demonstrated about the dust nuisance from the stockpile.

The PNP delegation, which also included Dr Morais Guy and Dr Fenton Ferguson, was joined at the JISCo/Alpart plant by party colleagues, Members of Parliament Evon Redman (St Elizabeth North Eastern) and Michael Stewart (Manchester Southern), Councillor Layton Smith (PNP, Myersville Division), and Dr Dwain Spencer, PNP candidate for St Elizabeth North Eastern.

The political representatives, although recognising some shortcomings in the restored compensation arrangements, gave their approval to the plan as an interim measure while the company works on longer-term strategies to address the dust issue.

Paulwell told JISCo/Alpart officials that his team would return early next month to assess their progress.