Enough is enough!
Minister Charles pledges to help people affected by Rio Cobre contamination
The newly commissioned amphibious excavator used to clean the Black River as part of flood prevention measures. (Photo: Garfield Myers)

SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr said Wednesday that his ministry will be doing all it can to help fishers and farmers affected by the latest contamination of the Rio Cobre in St Catherine to get compensated.

There has been widespread alarm over recent days following a chemical contamination of the Rio Cobre — the latest of a number of such incidents — which is said to have caused a massive fish kill. The chemical spill is alleged to have originated at the nearby Windalco bauxite/alumina plant.

Charles told his audience at the commissioning of an amphibious excavator, acquired to clean the Upper and Lower Black River Morass as part of flood prevention measures, that his ministry was prepared to assist victims of the Rio Cobre contamination to take legal action.

Charles said "farmers and fishers [close to the Rio Cobre] who depend on water from that stream have been completely cut off for days. We can expect that an entire reaping cycle has been disrupted... At the ministry we are going to do everything we can to give support to those farmers and to those fishers.

"If it means getting up there [to affected individuals close to the Rio Cobre] one by one bringing them [farmers and fishers] together and giving them the support to make the claim, the class action, that they require, that is what we are going to do. Enough is enough. Fool me once, but come on man, we are talking about repeated occasions..."

Charles noted that Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation who has responsibility for the environment, had investigated and the Government was "taking a collaborative approach in making sure we protect the communities".

Charles said his ministry "is going to play its part and we are gonna make sure that we do what we have to do to strengthen [farmers and fishers on the banks of the Rio Cobre] . The investment that they have made that is now going to be impacted must be quantified and we want to see who is going to pay. We have seen frightening examples of what can take place when we are impacted by climate change. We don't need now to be impacted by contamination".

The commissioning ceremony for the amphibious excavator took place at Rocky Hill just west of Santa Cruz, Wednesday. The $82.89-million machine operated by the National Irrigation Commission is meant to keep the Black River and its many tributaries in the Upper and Lower Morass as clean as possible (free of debris), thereby minimising flooding of communities and farm land, during very heavy rain.

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large, South Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

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