Dry Harbour Mountains mining not worth environmental risks

Dry Harbour Mountains mining not worth environmental risks

Raulston Nembhard

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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With the tremendous jolt that the Jamaican economy has received from the novel coronavirus pandemic, and with economic forecasts indicating a slow recovery of the economy, one can understand and even find sympathy with any Government's anxiety to find ways to create jobs and jump-start the economy. There is a tremendous burden that rests on the shoulder of any prime minister to find jobs for a population that has seen unemployment returning to 2016 levels, and so many finding it difficult to cope in the prevailing COVID-19 storm.

It is in this context that the prime minister's decision to overrule the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and allow for limestone mining in the Dry Harbour Mountains, near Rio Bueno, is to be understood.

But there is another context that the Government, despite its pretensions to the contrary, does not seem to be paying as much attention to as it ought. This has to do with the environmental integrity of the area which is a delicate ecological treasure, which environmental groups have argued must be protected.

What we are faced with is the perennial battle between the need to preserve the environment and the incessant and urgent need, especially in developing societies, to spur development of natural resources to obtain maximum economic gain for the country. But this is where the rub is.

I agree that there need not be an adversarial relationship between developmental goals and the protection of the environment, but successive governments of Jamaica have been too notorious in allowing the environment to be despoiled in their desperation to “pull people out of poverty”. In some respects, people have been more impoverished by the degradation of the environment in the pursuit of developmental goals.

The immediate example, of course, is the mining of bauxite in Jamaica. You only have to go to certain parishes, especially Manchester, St Elizabeth and St Ann, to see the damage that has been done to arable agricultural lands that have been mined over the years. The craters in the ground are a testament to the damage that has been done. And what do we really have to show for it?

The late Prime Minister Michael Manley came up with the brilliant policy of placing a levy on bauxite companies. Millions of dollars flowed into the Government's treasury, but this was squandered on the altars of political expediency to meet budgetary priorities which proved not to be too beneficial to the long-term health of the economy. To the best of my knowledge, these funds have literally dried up.

But back to Rio Bueno and the Dry Harbour Mountain project. The prime minister has argued that he will spare no effort in enforcing the over 70 conditions that the mining company has to adhere to. If even one is breached he will shut down the project. If a project should have so many conditionalities attached to it, one wonders why it should be approved in the first place. Why was more caution not exercised by the Government in overruling its environmental protection agency? How expensive will it be for the mining company to successfully fulfil these conditions?

And doubt remains as to how robust the Government's watchdog agency, NEPA, will be in ensuring that these conditions are adhered to. This agency's record in protecting the environment has been spotty, at best. One gets the distinct impression that once the company is let loose it will literally bulldoze its way through the delicate forests of trees and fauna, with hardly any eye on its activities. Again, we have seen this with the bauxite companies in their failure to do the land reclamation that was expected of them.

It would behove the prime minister to tread carefully with this one. I do believe that he is concerned about the environment. His Government's stance against mining in the Cockpit Country and preventing development on Goat Islands is well understood. But I strongly believe that we will have more to lose than to be gained from allowing any mining in “them thar mountains”. Once you put a bulldozer in a forest, the first tree that is knocked over begins the degradation of that territory. After that, there is no telling what will happen next.

Trees take a long time to grow to maturity. In delicate areas such as the Dry Harbour Mountain environment, once they are removed, and important fauna destroyed, they will never grow back, unless you embark on a robust reafforestation programme. This is well-nigh impossible when you leave 100-foot craters in the ground in an attempt to get to limestone deposits. We may create a few, even 100 jobs, in the short to medium term, but what happens in the long run to the environment? We will be left with another blot on the environment with future generations being denied enjoyment of the beauty of their natural heritage.

There is a tendency in Jamaica and elsewhere to regard those who advocate for environmental protection as fanatics. This is regrettable. I have often wondered what would have happened to the environment in this country or any other if there were not groups as actively engaged to protect it. I am no tree-hugging environmental fanatic, but I will admit that I am close to nature and especially believe in the protection of trees.

My neighbour recently sold his property on which there were five stately and fully matured oak trees. A fully grown oak tree is something to be admired. It is elegant and stands proudly in the spot where it struggled to maturity. Not only does it provide great shade, but is a great nesting home for birds and, in the USA, for squirrels and other creatures. The new owner, in under one week, had them all cut down. I felt depressed for the entire period. It was the new owner's decision to make, but I kept asking myself if he had to cut them down. Why did he not just trim them? But I concluded that his environmental concerns seem not to align with mine.

The work of environmental activists don't always align with those of the Government, but there is a balance to be maintained. We should always opt for the preservation of our natural space whenever we can, for it is never easy to restore that which has been destroyed. Tread carefully on this one, Mr Prime Minister.

The killing spree continues

It has to take a mind invaded by the most demented evil and putrid hatred of humanity to put an 81-year-old grandmother and her two granddaughters, aged six and 10 years, to kneel on the ground and then proceed to pump bullets into them, killing all three. This is what happened in Tryall Heights in St Catherine. The incident should fill all our hearts with sorrow, but even more so with a greater resolve to face the crime monster, which is reasserting itself, to bring it under control.

We are in a terrible spot. What is clear is that the Government cannot do it alone. Citizens are an essential part of the solution. It will take the entire society to be a part of the crime-fighting strategies to be employed. We must not be queasy in seeking the help of our international partners, especially in the area of intelligence gathering. Let us begin a new era that moves us from the knee-jerk approach to fighting crime to measured and sustained efforts that will bring results. National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, over to you.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the book WEEP: Why President Donald J. Trump Does Not Deserve A Second Term . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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