Holness reacts to 'false notions' about mining in Cockpit Country

Sunday, September 29, 2019

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Jamaicans in the United States on Thursday, that false notions were being spread in the Diaspora about the issues surrounding mining in the Cockpit Country.

In an interview on New York's Irie Jam 360 radio on Thursday, where he has been attending a United Nations summit on environmental issues, Holness insisted that Jamaica is a country of laws and due process, particularly regarding the environment.

He assured the Jamaican community that the Government has been carefully going through due process to resolve the matter and that there can be no trade-off between the environment and the economy.

He also announced that regarding the mining of bauxite in the Cockpit Country, the Government has been exploring other areas where there may be bauxite reserves.

“The environment always comes first. So, the issue is how do we use our environment in a sustainable way for economic gain, and that cannot happen without proper analysis and investigation,” Holness told the radio audience.

“So, the Government is exploring other areas where there may be reserves for bauxite, where there may be the potential for the company that is interested in mining in those particular areas, to be mined elsewhere. So we are looking at all those possibilities,” he said.

Noting what he described as his Administration's “environmentally sensitive and protective” nature, Holness said that it was important for the Government to clarify the issues that sometimes bring unnecessary negative attention to the country.

A number of Jamaicans demonstrated outside UN venue during the Prime Minister speech on Thursday, protesting against licensing of Noranda Bauxite, a 51-owned Jamaican company mining just outside the designated Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA). They insisted that there should be no mining anywhere within the Cockpit Country.

“The Government that I lead is now investing millions of dollars, US dollars, in the rehabilitation of watersheds, and the Government that I lead will, in a few days, launch a massive tree planting programme where we will be planting over four million trees in Jamaica,” he told the audience.

“So, I totally reject any form of suggestion that the Government is insensitive to the environment, and I totally reject any movement which would want to suggest that the Government would allow mining in any environmentally or ecologically sensitive area,” he stated.

“There are those who would want to protest: Protesting, that is our democratic right and that is good that people can hold their government to account, but I believe that people should be informed before they go out and do anything that could be destructive to Jamaica's reputation,” he said.

The prime minister called on the Diaspora to be good messengers for Jamaica.

“I challenge the Diaspora to look to build up the country; to be good messengers for Jamaica; to support the good efforts being made by the Government and, yes, to hold the Government to account. But, don't look for causes, for causes sake, look for what we can do to build our country,” he added.

In the meantime, Noranda Bauxite, whose licence to mine bauxite outside the 2017 designated CCPA, which the Government insists protects vulnerable environmental assets has created a storm over bauxite mining in the entire Cockpit Country area, issued a news release last weekend defending its environmental record while mining in the area over the years.

In regards to the current Cockpit Country debate, which has engendered much of the allegations against the company, Noranda said it is in full compliance with all Jamaican environmental regulations, and has not nor does it intend to mine within the CCPA designated by the Government in 2017.

The company also reiterated that only approximately 15 per cent of the 8,335 hectares allocated will be mined.

Noranda Bauxite said that industrial safety and the protection of the environment play a major role in its conduct of its operations.

“And this is in keeping with our obligations and the value we attach to the natural resources, and ecology of the areas around which we mine,” the release said.

Noranda also noted that during mining, all heritage sites and caves are secured from mining activity. It said that during the mining process, top soil and endemic and other species are removed and stored under controlled conditions (as an obligation under the mining permit).

“Upon completion of mining, the species are replanted or returned to the specific location, and carefully tended to facilitate their growth or regeneration,” the release said.

Noranda, which started out in Discovery Bay, St Ann, as Kaiser Bauxite, also reaffirmed that the company is committed to maintaining the highest safety, health and environmental standards.

“In that regard, the company has always worked in partnership with communities, through the community councils, for the implementation of constructive and mutually agreeable solutions to any environmental concerns that may arise, between the company and communities,” the release noted.

Relating to its general surroundings, the company pointed out that it has implemented various standard operating procedures aimed at limiting any impact on the natural environment.

“These include dust suppressant treatment systems which help to prevent fugitive dust emissions, as well as the asphalting of and constant wetting of truck haul roads in the mines to prevent the release of dust into the atmosphere,” Noranda said.

An effective Ambient Air Monitoring Programme, designed to monitor air quality around the plant, port and mines and surrounding communities, is also in place to maintain compliance with the Natural Resource Conservation Authority and World Health Organisation standards.


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