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The bauxite mining debate continues

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

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lt's a global perception that mining in any form engenders concerns about quality of life, agricultural disruption, community resettlement, and environment fallout.

The characteristic picture of mining is that it's intrusive and unattractive. Its first impression outlasts the restoration and rehabilitation images that are at the end of the cycle/process of bauxite mining.

Environmentalists, as is their want, will focus totally on the first stage in the mining cycle the disturbance of land considered sacrosanct to life.

The practical side to the debate, however, presents a case for a balanced approach, making the argument that the act of mining only represents a proportion of the cycle, and that rehabilitation and renewal are as much a part of the industry as is mining.

This is the balanced approach that the environment sector strives ardently to avoid.

The substantial matters of land rehabilitation after mining, major contributions to economic and social development, jobs, education assistance, community and structural development, roads, agricultural renovation, do not factor into their side of the argument.

Instead, facts are vigorously discarded in the pursuit of windmills Don Quixote style.

Unfortunately, the reputation of the bauxite industry in Jamaica for good corporate citizenship and sound economic, social, industrial, and agricultural contribution is being misrepresented by a wave of irresponsible social media messages, staged demonstrations, and media campaigns that have not taken into consideration the interest of hundreds of Jamaican workers and thousands of residents who benefit from the industry on a local and national scale.

The debate around the Cockpit Country is a case in point. Similar issues, albeit to a lesser extent, are raised by an article published in the Jamaica Observer on Sunday, September 8 titled 'Bauxite mining puts St Ann villages in a spin'.

In regard to the Cockpit Country, the perception of wanton bauxite mining and wholesale land and community dislocation is enhanced, as I said, by the persistent messages coming out of social media and from staged demonstrations.

The resultant hearsay and public misconceptions are confusing to the general public.

The fact is that there is no bauxite mining taking place or planned for the protected areas of the Cockpit Country.

This has been confirmed from the investigative reports of all regulatory agencies with regulatory and management responsibility for the Cockpit lands affirming that there is no mining in the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA).

In fact, the CCPA (officially declared as such by the Government on November 21, 2017), was the result of collaborative research documented in the best national interest of securing and preserving our Cockpit Country heritage, and to seal off such area from mining or any other activity that could disturb the ecological treasures of the region.

This vast area includes Accompong, Maroon Town, and other treasured and historical sites and communities

The Sunday Observer article claimed that communities, in particular the district of Gibraltar, are “in a spin” as they anticipate bauxite mining activities.

Yes, there may be a certain amount of uncertainty and apprehension when some form of transformation activity such as bauxite mining nears, but the history of mining in the company's operational areas is not an unfriendly one.

If not all from the same area, the miners share the same lifestyles and culture, and the surveyors, contractors, truckers are all Jamaicans who understand local concerns and are known to, and have easy rapport with the residents.

The concerns expressed by some residents who were interviewed about the possibility of relocation is not a reality. According to the article, farmers complained that Noranda is taking away their land for mining, but failed to assert that landowners under the present system remain as owners of the land during mining, are compensated for disturbance of surface rights, crops, yield, livestock, trees and buildings, and have their lands returned to them as rehabilitated and renewed for farming or occupational use.

The policy on resettlement focuses on land vendors or owners remaining, rather than moving away from their communities, by the development of recent subdivisions built at nearby Hyde Park and Friendship Cottage, both divisions constructed on mined-out lands.

As the respected Bishop Robert Clarke of Gibraltar Church of Christ is quoted as saying, “nobody in Gibraltar has been moved as yet”. He is right, as mining is taking place not inside, but behind Gibraltar.

As pointed out earlier in this article, land rehabilitation is a most significant part of the process and cycle of bauxite mining in Jamaica.

The top soil, which is removed before mining, is carefully stored and returned after mining to recover the mined area. It is then grassed, in some case fertilised, and certified by the commissioner of lands before it is returned to farming. It must be pointed out that not all bauxite-bearing lands are productive, and in many instances the areas under consideration are good only for grazing, housing.

Sunday's article also ignores the fact that the bauxite company does not own land, but leases such for mining, which itself can only occur after approval from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). In carrying out the environmental impact assessment studies mandated by the mining regulations prior to mining, Noranda had community consultations with the residents, where the mining areas, technical aspects, and land rehabilitation process information was shared.

The article also omitted to mention the partnership established with the local school and students who are the recipients of scholarships to secondary schools through the Noranda Primary Exit Profile examination recognition programme for all schools in the mining and plant areas.

Students and teachers at Gibraltar returned to a freshly painted school on opening day a contribution by Noranda supplemented by water in the tanks and replenishment to be carried out during the term.

On opening day, too, the school made a presentation to Noranda in appreciation of contributions to the school's development over the years.

The community playing fields in nearby Linton Park and Caledonia are constructed on mined-out lands, while the Lime Tree Garden community restored lands are considered to be model reclaimed land areas in the industry.

The reporter from the Sunday Observer would have missed the Lime Tree Garden Peanut Factory, built by the company over 20 years ago, and famous for peanut punch, peanut brittle, peanut bullas and packaged peanuts, with peanuts provided by farmers near and far.

It now remains for the farmers who are acquainted with the greenhouse technology introduced by the company to mining areas, to take advantage of this technology with the assistance of Noranda and the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI), while improving their farming techniques before or after mining.

The technology has been welcomed by farmers across the region because it does not rely on rain in drought-stricken areas. The company has been building water collection areas containing up to three million gallons in the greenhouse cluster areas at Burnt Ground, Nine Miles, Watt Town and Tobolski.

The farmers say that the initiative has transformed farming in the communities, and that they are now involved heavily in lettuce, cucumber, broccoli, sweet peppers, and tomatoes, with lucrative markets in Brown's Town and in hotels.

Back to the debate. The nature of the argument suggests that the environmentalists are against bauxite mining period, and that the Cockpit Country is only one of the windmills targeted. Environment discomfort is a strong point, and the case for renewable energy, sustainable development, and underground water resources weighs heavily in favour of this argument.

But the industry is still the export powerhouse. Those who are wishing for the demise of the bauxite industry should stop and think. Bauxite/alumina exports contribute some 50 per cent of mercantile exports today. Alpart is about to be closed, albeit temporarily. If say, God forbid, Noranda were to be shuttered, then think of how the US$80 million per year pumped into the economy by that company could be replaced.

To quote Dr Carlton Davis, the internationally respected former head of the JBI, “there is no point in creating a resistance to bauxite mining and eventually destroying the industry without examining the long-term consequences. It is not enough to just seek to close down the bauxite industry on spurious grounds...but you have to do some hard thinking as to how these earnings would be replaced”.

How does the environment lobby compare? Where is their alternative plan for investment?

And how do they replace an industry that provides some 50 per cent of mercantile exports; is a major top-level employer; major earner of foreign exchange; major sponsor of education, sports, community development; mover in agricultural technology, industrial skills training; a lifeline for shops, bars, restaurants, trade skills, garages, small businesses, plaing fields, housing developments, and, above all, the beneficiary of myriad partnerships created with Jamaicans great and small?

“They said the land is theirs,” says a community resident in the Sunday Observer article, “but we in the community should get some good answers about how we are going to benefit when they take away the land we use to farm, before they come in an' do the farming.”

Thanks to the Observer and their reporter for opening up the conversation, because we should have the conversations continue, the questions answered, and the environmentalists invited to join in the debate.


Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive


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