Court case stalls House probe on lease for mining in Dry Harbour Mountain

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Court case stalls House probe on lease for mining in Dry Harbour Mountain

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 14, 2021

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DISCUSSIONS with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and its parent ministry on the impact of recently approved mining leases in the Dry Harbour Mountains, St Ann, stalled at yesterday's meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) after the Permanent Secretary Audrey Sewell pointed out that the matter is now before the court.

Members of the PAAC were getting ready to question the Government's decision to approve the mining lease when the permanent secretary intervened and advised that it is sub judice.

Residents are suing the Government and the mining company for alleged breaches of constitutional rights, and are seeking a permanent injunction against mining on the 569-acre north coast property.

The Government was last month was served with a lawsuit seeking to block Bengal Developments Limited from mining in the Puerto Bueno/Dry Harbour Mountains in Discovery Bay. The claim was filed in the Supreme Court against the Natural Resources and Conservation Authority (NRCA), the attorney general, and Bengal Development Limited.

However, yesterday head of NEPA, Peter Knight, told the PAAC that the conditions of the environmental permit issued to the company remain in force. “We are continuing with the work as if the permit is active, and the permit is active,” he said.

He noted that no quarrying licence has yet been issued, and that the quarry advisory committee has not met since July of last year. He added that Bengal Development has until January 17 to pay the $40 million bond for restoration. Failure to do so could see the NRCA either revoking or suspending the permit. However, the company can request an extension to pay, subject to approval by the NRCA.

In November, a Gleaner report said the then environmental portfolio minister had, in July, overridden a previous decision by NEPA not to allow mining and quarrying at Dry Harbour Mountain in Discovery Bay, St Ann.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness subsequently announced that the Government had engaged in a rigorous and lengthy process ahead of granting permit.

“I'm not one given to wild and thoughtless decisions; it is considered and it is done always from my heart for the best interest of the people. We are not looking to destroy our environment and it hurts me deeply when people accuse me of that. We are not looking to deprive anyone of the lovely vistas and the salubrious environment of that area and I believe that we are smart enough, innovative enough and we have the capacity to manage these economic enterprises,” he said at an event in St Ann in November.

The company, owned by Jamaica World, is proposing to carry out mining activities over 20 years. Jamaica World says it will create between 50 to 100 jobs and contribute an estimated $635,755,176 in quarry taxes to the Jamaican economy.

But environmental lobby, Jamaica Environment Trust, said NEPA and the NRCA had rejected the permit with good reason, including that the proposed development is contrary to the provisions of the St Ann Confirmed Development Order, 2000; the area is not a designated quarry zone; and a quarry of this nature, size, scale would severely impact biodiversity and natural resources, and underground hydrology.

The proposed project is located off the north coast Queen's Highway east of Rio Bueno and to the west of Discovery, four kilometres from the Trelawny parish border.

According to the NEPA-commissioned environmental impact assessment, under the Town and Planning Act, specific to the section of the “undeveloped coast” from Rio Bueno to Discovery Bay, within which the proposed project land is located, the area is said to consist of vegetation of scenic value, predominant limestone out-crop, and type of vegetation that would take a long time to be re-established if destroyed.

The Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation is to return to the PAAC in another two weeks to answer questions about mining leases for the Cockpit Country.


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