Rio Grande sand mining issue for Cabinet Monday — Samuda
Disabled tractor in the Rio Grande (Photos: Everard Owen)

BURLINGTON, Portland — Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Matthew Samuda says he will on Monday take the issue of sand mining in the Rio Grande to Cabinet.

“At the end of the day Jamaica has provided us with a lush, beautiful, well-resourced natural environment and we expect that people will use it for economic gain; we all have to ensure that all elements of the economy interact with the environment in a particular way. We are looking for the solutions that will allow persons to coexist with commercial activities to happen within the boundaries of this natural resource behind us (Rio Grande). I will bring the matter to Cabinet on Monday to be looked at,” Samuda said.

Rafters who make a living from ferrying locals and tourists along the river have complained bitterly that it is being negatively affected by sand mining activities.

During a recent tour of the area to assess the situation, Samuda was accompanied by representatives from the Ministry of Transport and Mining, the National Environment & Planning Agency, Forestry Department, National Water Commission, and Water Resources Authority.

Commissioner of mines Roy Nicholson said the visit was aimed at finding a workable solution for all parties.

“We… have heard the complaints of citizens and have seen the conditions and have to address the concerns. We want the rafters, citizens and miners to work together as we are one people, one Rio Grande and it is for all of us. We are here to find solutions and we will for the benefit of all,” he said.

Raft Captain Justin Norman, who outlined a number of issues that he believes are negatively affecting the river, urged Samuda to act.

“I am in the trade for about 49 years now. What I see going on in the river is not right. You have something a grow in the river now, and I don’t know is what type of grass this but to me this grass come from the oil. We need to stop this thing. There is a tractor in the river almost a year now and is leaking oil that has affected the rafting and sand that is normally at St Margaret’s Bay. I want you to do something about it,” he said.

His colleague Paul Burke, who pointed out that mining and rafting activities have coexisted for years, said the problem is the approach now being used to mine the sand.

“There is not a balance as they just dig randomly without giving consideration about the passage we are to traverse with our rafts. The tourists normally swim and the holes they leave is about 30, 40 feet and we have to be careful as that is dangerous. We have to know where to allow our guests to swim and have to be watching over them,” Burke complained. “The operators mine at all times and, when we are coming down, the water is dirty and oil in the water and that is not good. They need to operate in the hours designated for mining. We need to create the balance.”

However, Burlington Development Company Limited’s David Phillipson pointed out that the company has had to face its own challenges.

“I have lost 30 acres of land that the river has taken away,” he said as he pointed to an area of the river where morass grows.

His partner, Rohan Vanhorne-Hanz, added, “We are not allowed to go across the river to mine.”

NEPA Senior Manager Richard Nelson noted that both activities should be able to coexist as long as they follow the guidelines it has laid down.

“The river here is a multi-used resource, mining taking place and rafting taking place and there is a feeling that both can occur, based on the environmental permit granted by NEPA for operation. For the most part, there is compliance and there are some areas of concern. There is a derelict machine in the river and there is oil in it [which], when washed into the river, can pose an environmental problem. These are some of the issues that NEPA will have to address,” he said.

Member of Parliament for Portland Eastern Ann Marie Vaz, who was on the tour, is hoping the issue can be resolved to the satisfaction of all her constituents.

“We hope we will get a comprehensive plan so that all parties involved will be satisfied as we get an amicable solution,” she said of Samuda’s announcement that the issue will be taken to Cabinet.

Member of Parliament for Portland Eastern, Ann Marie Vaz speaks with minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Matthew Samuda during a tour of the Rio Grande.
Operator of Burlington Development Company Ltd David Phillipson in discussion with Member of Parliament for Portland Eastern Ann Marie Vaz.

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