Protest stalls production at JISCO AlpartTuesday, May 28, 2019
BY GARFIELD MYERS
NAIN, St Elizabeth — Several hours of production time were lost as residents from surrounding communities blocked the entrance to the bauxite/alumina JISCO Alpart plant here early yesterday to protest against environmental pollution and related issues.
The protest, which started at daybreak, continued until minutes after 10:00 am when the JISCO Alpart management agreed to meet with residents, community leaders and political representatives.
It was only then that employees who had been arriving since early morning for the start of their day-time shifts entered the plant.
The meeting involving more than 50 residents — mostly women — political representatives, and community leaders ended after two hours with agreement for the setting up of a monitoring committee which will meet fortnightly and report to residents on the progress of efforts by the company to reduce emissions.
The committee will also seek to maintain communication links between the JISCO Alpart management and residents in order to prevent incidents such as occurred yesterday.
Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Eastern Frank Witter (JLP), Councillor Layton Smith (PNP, Myersville Division), head of the Alpart Community Council Len Blake, and members of the Alpart management including Managing Director Zhang Jun were among those at the meeting.
The protest action was apparently triggered by what residents of New Building, in particular, claimed was a long delay in getting a report from JISCO Alpart about dust/air pollution as well as what they considered inadequate compensation to householders and farmers.
Residents said heavy rain over recent days had also made a pungent smell emanating from the plant near unbearable.
Nain resident Joseph Genus repeated numerous claims made by residents down the years that emissions were making people sick. “Sinus problems, people feel bad, people drop down... when the scent tek mi, mi can't eat and mi sick same way...,” said Genus.
He argued that if the emission problems could not be resolved, JISCO Alpart should relocate people who live close to the refinery.
At the meeting, the JISCO Alpart management repeated previous pledges that it is now in the process of rehabilitating the 50 year-old plant and that the problem of industrial emissions will be significantly reduced by the end of December.
The management team also reiterated that the method of allocating some forms of compensation for damage from emissions is being reviewed with a view to improved arrangements.
“Alpart is an old plant, and we are doing a lot of modifications to correct the issues. I can tell you that it won't be corrected overnight... but over time a lot of odour and emission issues will be taken care of,” JISCO Alpart's Communications Manager Julian Keane told journalists following the meeting.
Political representatives Witter, Smith, and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) caretaker for St Elizabeth South Eastern Dr Dwaine Spencer all seemed to agree that poor communication between Alpart and some communities around the plant was a fundamental part of the problem.
However, Keane told the Jamaica Observer that JISCO Alpart has been at pains to explain to residents, in recent meetings, its plans to modernise the plant, reduce emissions, and improve compensation arrangements.