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Stakeholders and residents in the Cockpit Country are unhappy that mining is about to start and the Jamaican government had ignored their voices. But, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, yesterday (June 5) told residents at Troy, Trelawny, that no mine is in the Cockpit Country designated protected area. He did so after calling together the regulatory agencies that could shed light on the status of the area.
No Mining in the Designated Protected Areas
The regulators unanimously asserted that no bauxite mining activity is happening in the designated protected area of the Cockpit Country.
The Ministry of Transport and Mining’s representative reported that Noranda Bauxite Partners II (Noranda), the company that received the license to mine, is not presently mining in the designated protected area. However, mining operations will occur in two sections of the vast Cockpit Country – (Special Mining Lease (SML) 172 and 165). These sections are not in the designated protected area.
Environmental Impact Study Commissioned
SML173, however, is the third area slated for mining but it adjoins the designated protected area of the Cockpit Country. The Ministry of Transport and Mining, however, reported that it has commissioned an Environmental Impact Study. This study is to confirm whether or not mining can take place in the SML 173 area.
Meanwhile, the Forestry Department, the agency responsible for the management of forested crown lands, is conducting a ground truthing exercise. The Agency completed approximately 83 Kilometres of ground-truthing in the designated protected area.
The Water Resources Authority and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) also confirmed that they observed no mining in the designated protected area.
Government Resolute, No Mining in the Cockpit Country
The Prime Minister later told residents and stakeholders in Troy, Trelawny, that the government is resolute that there will be no mining in the designated Cockpit Country Protected Area. He further stated his confidence that enough consensus exists for the enactment of legislation to protect the designated area. While he did not say when this would occur, all expectations are that it would be very soon.
Meanwhile, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, Southern Trelawny MP, raised many concerns that residents, farmers, and environmentalists had presented to her. The Prime Minister told the meeting at Troy that he will review these concerns and respond at a later stage.
Natural Resources at stake
The Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) stated in its website that the Cockpit Country is Jamaica’s last remaining wilderness. This area is home to 1500 endemic species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the island. Furthermore, this lush area provides 40% of Jamaica’s groundwater. This watershed also serves Western Jamaica through the Great River, the Black River, the Martha Brae River, and the YS River.
The vast array of plant species found in the Cockpit Country are not analysed. Consequently, the potential value of their active ingredients toward the treatment of various ailments is not currently known. Indeed, for centuries, the Maroon population in the community of Accompong used these plants for natural remedies.
Waterfalls, caves, lush landscape, and the cultural traditions of the 73,000 residents in the sixty-six buffer zone communities are important for ecotourism. For these reasons, STEA has advocated for the protection of the Cockpit Country.
The environmental agency believes that the Special Mining Lease area 173 is too close to the designated protected area. The group and other stakeholders noted that this area is critical for the sustainability of the Cockpit Country’s eco-system. As such, the entire area should not be mined.
These stakeholders are actively campaigning to persuade the government to stop its plans for mining in the entire Cockpit Country before September 2019, the scheduled mining start date. This area consists of 1000 square kilometres of public and privately owned lands.
Cockpit Country is a Valuable Natural Area
Interestingly, participants in a series of stakeholder consultations in 1999 and 2000 agreed that the natural resources in the Cockpit County are valuable. They also supported the idea of a project to conserve the biodiversity of the Cockpit Country. Furthermore, they proposed various alternative strategies for economic activities that would not damage natural resources. At the time, the World Bank was willing to provide funding for viable projects but did not proceed owing to the absence of government confirmation that mining would not take place.
During those stakeholder consultations, a representative of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute echoed support for conservation of the Cockpit Country. She, however, revealed that during the mid-1990s, exploratory drilling on the northern boundary of Cockpit Country confirmed the presence of valuable bauxite reserves.
Clearly, the conflict between bauxite mining and the conservation of the Cockpit Country emerged during these stakeholder consultations. The wider public debate did not yield much of a consensus. Both interests remain at a stalemate even now.
So, the Jamaican government has cast its die. Mining activity by Moranda Bauxite Partners II starts in September 2019. The entire Cockpit Country will feel the effects of bauxite mining in its midst.