Update | JET, Opposition demand buffer zone for Cockpit Country

Calls have increased from environment watchdog Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) for legislative protection of the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) following the decision by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) to grant a special mining licence (SML) to Noranda Bauxite.

The two groups are also insisting that buffer zones be declared around the CCPA, which would ensure environmental protection.

Following months of public pressure, the National Environment and Planning Agency on Monday announced a reduction in the area in the Cockpit Country to be mined under SML 173 granted to Noranda.

The original application for the environmental permit for mining and quarrying in 2018 for SML 173 was for a total of 8,335 hectares. This was later reduced to 6,163 hectares after the removal of the ‘clawed-back area’.

That has been further reduced to 1,324 hectares of land in the protected area of St Ann.

JET said Tuesday that the news was not a victory, adding that concerns remained that Noranda may be offered additional compensatory land in St Ann.

“This is our major concern – that the significant impacts of bauxite mining, displacement, loss of livelihoods, threats to water supplies, loss of biodiversity, including reduction of soil fertility, public-health impacts will just be transferred elsewhere. Until we know these details, it is impossible to fully assess what this decision means for Jamaica,” JET CEO Dr Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie said.

JET said it was also concerned that the area to be mined includes the Rio Bueno watershed and is forested. It said there are implications for hydrology.

It urged that the details of the permit be made public, including the size of the performance bond, a plan for compensation, and details surrounding the health impact study to be conducted.

The agency said the area excluded from mining, specifically the forest reserves and clawed-back area, should now be included in the CCPA so that it will no longer be under threat of a new mining application.

“Four years after the declaration of the CCPA, this vitally important protected area has still not been legally gazetted. We believe urgent action on this is of paramount importance,” JET said, at the same time calling for the declaration of a buffer zone and that the restoration guidelines for mined areas be revised.

JET also expressed strong opposition that Noranda be allowed to reapply to mine other areas after the initial five-year environment permit, noting that while the industry profited Jamaica in its early years, its costs now far exceed those benefits.

Meantime, the PNP said that it was disappointed with the decision.

“Although the permit is for a smaller parcel of land than requested, we believe the decision of the environmental regulator is counter to its mandate to protect and preserve Jamaica’s environment, including the sensitive and important Cockpit Country,” Opposition Spokesperson on Land Environment and Mining, Senator Frazer-Binns, said.

She said in addition to the need for urgent legislative protection of the CCPA and the establishment of buffer zones, the Government should establish a multisectoral or multidisciplinary committee to commence, in earnest, the exploration of alternatives to bauxite mining.

“The evidence is clear that both time and mining lands are running out,” she said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said JET described the news as a small victory. It had, in fact, said the reduction of the mining area was no victory.