Court ruling sparks concern in bauxite/alumina sector
CONCERNS are rising in the local bauxite/alumina industry over the effect of the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, in favour of environmentalists and residents opposing mining in the Cockpit Country.
The court barred overseas-based partners Noranda Jamaica Partners II and New Day Aluminum (Jamaica) Limited from mining lands in the area, which some residents say is threatening their survival.
The court issued an injunction two Fridays ago, which should end either the commencement or the continuation of mining of the lands by the bauxite/alumina partners under Special Mining Lease (SML) 173, and will remain in force until the claim brought by the residents is heard and determined, likely in November.
This has raised bauxite/alumina insiders’ fears that the delay granted by the court could lead to an eventual pull out from Jamaica’s prized bauxite lands, ending a 25-year lease agreement between the Government and the bauxite/alumina giants focused on mining and shipping the ore from the island to North America.
According to a Ministry of Transport and Mining (MTM) source, “there are legal implications arising from the establishment agreement which was signed with Noranda in 2018, under which the Government has agreed to provide 5.2 million tonnes per year to Noranda”.
“The country faces a loss of approximately 1,000 direct jobs, in addition to tremendous losses for local contractors who have invested significantly in 150 trucks and heavy equipment costing them over well US$100,000 each and who are planning to add another 900 workers to the current workforce,” he said.
Also threatened is the country’s tax earnings from the partnership with Noranda Alumina and Noranda Bauxite, with the latter company focused on mining and shipping bauxite from here to foreign alumina plants, including Gramercy in Louisiana, United States.
In September 2018, Noranda Bauxite announced that it had been given a new, expanded 25-year deal, as well as a 25-year renewal of the special mining lease that will allow it to extract as much as 5.2 million tons of bauxite annually from the Trelawny and St Ann parish reserves.
Noranda resumed delayed bauxite levy payments in September 2021 following negotiations which led to its reinstatement and the asset usage fee debt of US$3.4 million, which was owed to Jamaica Bauxite Mining Limited.
The Supreme Court of Jamaica, however, decided to bar Noranda Jamaica Partners II and New Day Aluminum (Jamaica) Limited from mining lands in St Ann’s Cockpit Country, which some residents say is threatening their survival.
The court accepted the evidence of the companies that bauxite mining exercises, which they had carried out pursuant to special mining leases 165 and 172, have ceased, and that any tasks being carried out in respect to those leases have been limited to reclamation work. However, the six claimants insist that the matter has raised important issues surrounding their constitutional rights.
They also assert that bauxite mining activities, on the part of first defendant, Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners (“Noranda I”), second defendant, Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II (“Noranda II), the third defendant, New Day Aluminium (Jamaica) Limited (“New Day”), (collectively referred to as “the Defendant Companies”) and the fourth defendant, the attorney general of Jamaica, have breached or are likely to breach certain of their fundamental rights.
The court heard that following complaints from the claimants, resulting from the issue of SML173 and resumption of mining activities by Noranda I and/or Noranda II and/or New Day, pursuant to the leases, they have suffered significant injuries to their health, damage to their homes, farms and subsistence crops, contamination of their drinking water sources, loss of their livelihood and rural way of life and/or other financial and personal loss and, in the case of the First Claimant, the loss of her spouse
The claimants are being represented by King’s Counsel Michael Hylton, who was joined by attorneys Marlene Alleyne, Melissa McLeod and Daynia Allen, instructed by Hylton Powell.
They are seeking damages, contending that the bauxite mining activities have breached, or are likely to breach, their fundamental right to life, the right to receive information and the right to reside in any part of Jamaica.
They maintained that, despite numerous complaints in relation to the health impact of bauxite dust pollution, the defendants, in particular the fourth defendant, have failed to take even basic measures to safeguard the life and health of the citizenry before granting Special Mining Leases 165, 172 and 173.
On September 6, 2018, the Government of Jamaica and New Day Aluminium (Jamaica) Limited signed an establishment agreement, which prevented the closure of the bauxite mining operations headquartered at Discovery Bay, St Ann.
This saved the jobs of more than 500 workers and contractors and resulted in the creation of Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II, as a joint venture between the Government of Jamaica (51 per cent) and New Day Aluminium (Jamaica) Limited (49 per cent).
The profit-share agreement between the Government of Jamaica and New Day, which was largely in lieu of the Bauxite Production Levy, extended the agreement to include the operations of New Day’s alumina refinery at Gramercy, Louisiana, United States.
The 51 per cent interest in Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II is managed by the GOJ-owned Jamaica Bauxite Mining Limited (JBM).