Bad feelings in Rio Bueno

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Bad feelings in Rio Bueno

Citizens against latest attempt to mine aggregate from 'environmental treasure'

Sunday, August 04, 2019

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Residents in and around Bengal, St Ann, near Rio Bueno have mobilised themselves to oppose a planned limestone-processing operation in the area. The project, a collaboration between a new company, Jamaica World, and a Spanish mining outfit known as EPSA aims to process approximately four million metric tonnes of construction aggregates from the mining operation over five years.

An application to mine commencing with 50 hectares of land in the area has been sent to NEPA and the project is awaiting a permit.

The zone, which lies between Discovery Bay and Rio Bueno incorporates the Puerto Bueno Mountain and has been widely recognised as an environmental treasure. The forested mountain is a habitat for rare and endangered species of endemic plants, birds, insects, and the Jamaican boa or yellow snake.

The scenic beauty of the area has attracted tourism stakeholders to the area who have constructed villas along the coast as well as other residents who have made their homes there.

Due to the environmental importance of the area, the Northern Jamaica Conservation Association (NJCA) was the recipient of a grant in 2006 from the Jamaican Forestry Department and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) “to facilitate a discussion process on how to best preserve one of the last relatively undisturbed areas of dry limestone forest along the northern coast of Jamaica”.

According to a recent report the mining operation could employ up to 100 people and extract one million tonnes of limestone per year in the first five years alone. An operation of this magnitude can generate negative environmental impacts on the physical landscape as well as the nearby community.

One major concern of residents in the area is air pollution, which was outlined in an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report that is currently posted on NEPA's website.

“The first impact is air pollution generated from the construction equipment and transportation,” the report stated. “The second is from fugitive dust from the proposed construction areas and raw materials stored on site. Fugitive dust has the potential to affect the health of construction workers, the resident population, and the vegetation.”

Paul Muschett, custos rotulorum of Trelawny, in a letter of objection to the quarry sent to NEPA, wrote, “I am very concerned about the dust impact on the towns of Rio Bueno and Calabar, especially the effect on the children attending the all age school in Rio Bueno.”

Bengal resident and villa owner, Justin Krumm, echoed the custos's sentiments in another letter.

“I am in the medical field and know the disastrous impact of quarry dust on humans and livestock,” he stressed. “The levels given in the models used for the EIA are alarming, multiples of safe levels. Already, we have concerns about the bauxite dust that often exceeds NEPA standards. These health impacts would be especially severe for the retirees who live in the community as well as the children at nearby schools.”

NOT THE FIRST TIME

This is not the first time, however, that residents have been at odds with a mining operation in the area. In 2010 due to “high environmental impacts and nuisance to local residents” the NJCA successfully mobilised community opposition to an application for a limestone quarry and crushing plant by Diamond Property Development Company Ltd. The result was that NEPA informed the applicants that a full EIA was needed and only a small proportion of the area would be considered for a quarry.

Before that, mining also took place in the area as part of the construction of the Queen's Highway. The mining was done by Jose Cartellone Construcciones Civiles SA, a company from Argentina.

“The earlier Cartellone quarry was granted an exceptional permit to operate for a limited time, to provide materials for the construction of the north coast highway 'in the national interest',” explained Wendy Lee, former CEO of the NJCA. “No such compelling reason exists today.”

Residents are now frustrated that after their successful efforts in 2010 they are facing the same situation again, this time on a much larger scale over a more prolonged period of time. The NJCA is no longer in existence, but residents have still managed to organise themselves in opposition once more.

Jamaica World, in a public meeting with residents in which the findings of the EIA were presented and discussed, had sought to assure them that it would provide employment to people in the area, that it would carry out proper rehabilitation of the land after quarrying, and that procedures would be used to diminish air pollution, vibrations and noise pollution among other concerns. It also claimed that specific environmentally valuable areas would be excluded from the operation and threatened species of animals would be relocated to the untouched sections of the area.

But according to environmentalist, Wendy Lee, experts have criticised proposals to relocate wildlife from the quarry site to the adjacent forest as misguided and useless. Also, limiting mining to particular sectors does not mean that the rest of the zone will be undamaged.

“Apart from the intolerable levels of dust, noise, truck traffic, and devaluation of property values faced by residents, there is a danger that opening up even a small part of the area to mining would pose a threat to the rest of the forest adjacent to the quarry site,” she revealed.

Residents were not convinced by the assurances they received from Jamaica World, and one other major area of concern was the expected traffic from trucks removing aggregate from the site.

200 TRUCKS PER DAY

“I didn't appreciate that the number of trucks involved could be upwards of 200 per day which would travel along the main highway, which is one of the most lethal stretches of road in Jamaica evidenced by the number of fatal accidents over the 10-year period that I have lived here,” noted Anthony Holmes, chairman of the Queen's Highway Citizens' Association Ltd.

Concern from residents goes beyond just the potential damage to health and well-being. Tourism stakeholders are naturally worried about the impact of pollution and traffic on their businesses.

“This operation will have a detrimental effect on tourism to this area and the surrounding developments (ie Puerto Seco beach, hotels along the north coast) and other attractions in the area,” wrote Bengal resident, Richard James, in his letter of objection.

“The profit made from this mining operation by the Government is minuscule compared to that which will be lost to tourism over the 20-30 years and beyond of operation [of the quarry].”

Another resident, Audrey Holmes, lamented in her letter that, “residents in the vicinity are justifiably concerned as to the potential financial losses they may incur as a result of this venture. Clearly, it will devalue nearby properties and have a significant impact on the ability to sell if residents wished to do so in the future”.

The former CEO of NJCA, Wendy Lee, believes that as the residents move forward with their challenge to the planned mining development, it is an undertaking that should be significant and of interest to the rest of the country.

“This is one of the last remaining examples of primary dry limestone forest on the north coast, and it should be preserved for the people of Jamaica and the world as a living laboratory for scientific research and education, a reservoir of biodiversity, a spectacular natural landscape, and a source of enjoyment and economic benefits through ecotourism,” she insisted.

The Jamaica Observer contacted NEPA for comment but the organisation was not prepared to make any statements on the matter at this time.

The acting manager for public relations and corporate communication at NEPA Ollyvia Anderson stated in her response that, “at this time, the agency wishes to advise that it does not believe it is appropriate to discuss the matter outside of the July 12, 2019 public meeting held to discuss the findings of the environmental impact assessment (EIA), following which the public has 21 days within which to comment on the proposed development”.

“The Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) will consider the notes from the meeting and independent comments made outside of the public meeting,” she continued. “A detailed review of the EIA will also be considered in the making of the final decision by the NRCA. We are willing to discuss this matter once a submission is prepared and considered by the technical review committee of the NRCA.”


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