PAAC still awaiting answers on Dry Harbour Mountain bond delay

PAAC still awaiting answers on Dry Harbour Mountain bond delay

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, January 28, 2021

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Head of National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) Peter Knight fumbled before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) yesterday, as he faced questions about the basis on which Bengal Development Limited was granted a 60-day extension to pay a $40-million restoration bond on its environmental permit.

The bond on the environmental permit to mine in Dry Harbour Mountain, St Ann, was due on January 17, but a two-month extension has been granted by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA).

Failure to pay the bond could result in the permit being revoked or suspended.

Knight told the PAAC that he could not recall the details of the request, but that the argument which Bengal may have made, could have been related to processes for which NEPA does not have jurisdiction, such as mining licences. “I don't recall what was said, but it was considered, and the 60 days was [granted],” said Knight.

He said he had been party to the decision to grant the extension.

“I'm not denying that I know, what I'm saying [is] I don't have in my head the reasons for the request,” declared Knight as he reminded the PAAC that the Government is now facing a lawsuit over the proposed mining operation.

That answer did not satisfy the committee's Chairman Mikael Phillips who argued that any answer from Knight would not impact the court case.

“I'm just asking in the public interest at this point in time; I don't see how this will affect the matter in court, for you to be able to say why is it...NRCA has gone head and granted an extension to a bond that should have been paid on the 17th[of January]. All we are asking is on what basis has that extension been granted,” said Phillips.

But Knight insisted that he had appeared before the PAAC prepared to answer the question.

“I would have pulled the file, I would have brought correspondence and decisions with us, I didn't know that matter would have come up. What I can tell you is that there was a request for an extension in the payment of the bond, the matter was considered, the days that were requested were not supported, it was reduced to 60 days,” said Knight.Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Audrey Sewell, underscored that the matter was sub judice and said she would consult with the attorney general's (AG's) chambers to determine if the committee could be provided with answers regarding the extension.

“We are not here skirting around anything chairman, I've always tried to be open and to be transparent. If a matter is before the court and we are advised by the AG chambers how to approach it if we are asked additional questions, I would be willing to send information immediately if I am advised that it's okay to,” Sewell stated.

The Government is being sued by residents and other parties in a claim filed in the Supreme Court in December, seeking to block Bengal Developments Limited from mining in the Puerto Bueno/Dry Harbour Mountains in Discovery Bay.

The defendants in the case are the NRCA, the attorney general, and Bengal Development Limited.

Under the terms of the agreement between the Government and Bengal, the company is to pay a $40-milllion bond which is to be held by the NRCA as surety against environmental damage and to restore resources that are impacted by the mining of bauxite and other minerals on the north coast lands, as proposed by the company.

If Bengal receives a mining licence from the Government, this will allow it to mine the lands for some 20 years.

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