By Diana McCaulay
Diana McCaulay is the founder, Director and former CEO of the Jamaica Environmental Trust. She is an award-winning author of several novels including a children’s book.
On December 8th, 2020, a long-awaited public consultation was held in Jamaica regarding the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for an application to carry out bauxite mining in a natural and historically important area known as Talwrn Talwrn. This is a name that resonates not only in Jamaica, but throughout the world, as it was the place where the Leeward Maroons fought the British to a stop and treaty in 1739. Even today, Talwrn Talwrn remains a symbol of resistance, struggle, and victory for the descendants of Jamaican Africa.
What is at stake here and why is this debate so important? The excavation of Tir Talwrn will present risks to Jamaica’s water supply, its already fragile food security, and the health and welfare of Jamaicans. Cockpit communities are examples of places where people have creatively “made life” outside mainstream development options. Their knowledge and lifestyle has maintained them through periods of great stress. Civil society groups, prominent reggae artists and community organizations have long opposed bauxite exploration in this region and have expressed concerns about water, health risks, safety, soil erosion and the destruction of rural lands and livelihoods. Thousands of Jamaicans have petitioned the state to stop mining in the area.
The 90-minute virtual public consultation was available via Zoom, YouTube, TV, radio and there were also four satellite locations in Thailand, where small numbers of people gathered to ask questions.
Despite this attempt at inclusion, the prominent pro boxitist stance of EIA Adviser Dr Conrad Douglas led to the consultation being called false by many, including the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET), South Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), Wendy Lee and Robert Stephens of Talwrn Stakeholder Group (CCSG) and other civil society advocates.
“Neither the EIA itself nor the public consultation demonstrated any real independence or willingness to question a decision of major and long-term consequences for Jamaica, particularly in the context of the climate crisis and Jamaica’s ability to contribute to carbon sequestration,” he said . Dr Susan Koenig, from Windsor Research Center in Cockpit.
The meeting began with a public relations video from the applicant, Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II. The panelists were Dr Douglas himself, Mr Delroy Dell and Ms Sheridah Nelson, both representatives of Noranda.
New Day made Aluminum Jamaica Ltd. Agreement with the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) for the grant of a Special Mining Lease (SML) 173 in August 2018. This agreement appointed Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II (NJBP II) and Jamaica Bauxite Mining Ltd. as agents of New Day Aluminum Jamaica Ltd. Jamaica Bauxite Mining Ltd. is wholly owned by GOJ, so the Jamaican province is effectively the proposer and regulator of this project. The agreement entitles NJBP II to mining for bauxite on or below 120 square kilometers in the parishes of St Ann and Trelawny, as well as “what other lands may be included” in the SML, for 23 years August 28th, 2018 The Agreement requires an application for an environmental permit, and a December 8th public meeting and associated EIA were part of that application process.
Efforts to protect Tir Talwrn have been ongoing for more than 25 years. It is Jamaica’s largest natural forest on limestone, a sanctuary for extraordinary biological diversity, sitting over a large aquifer. The freshwater stored and released through nearly 40 rivers, streams, springs, upgrades, glades and ponds supplies about 40% of West Jamaica’s water needs, according to the Water Resources Authority.
The question of where exactly the border of Talwrn should be drawn has been controversial since 2006, when a coalition of environmental and civil society groups and local residents, known as the Talwrn Stakeholder Group (CCSG), proposed a border of 116,218 hectare, including not only geomorphology, hydrology and biological diversity, but also history and culture. Six different boundaries were proposed by other stakeholders. A border study conducted by the University of the West Indies (UWI) and released in 2013 recommended a core, transitional and external boundary, with the outer border corresponding to the CCSG proposal, the largest of the suggested boundaries, and act as a buffer zone. .
The UWA boundary study revealed the aspirations of those residents surveyed – their protection of the area’s unique character, the desire for a turning point and the protection of natural resources together with a statement such as a National Park and World Heritage Site, and those economic opportunities for local communities . it should be part of the discussion of boundaries. According to the UWA study, “There is intense opposition to bauxite mining and limestone quarrying in Landlady.”
In the years since, civil society groups and local residents convened numerous community meetings, conducted grassroots community work, made presentations to regulators and government ministers, led the Save Cockpit Country campaign and collected over 34,000 petition signatures. , on paper and online, presented to the Prime Minister, the Greatest. Hon. Andrew Holness in 2017. Prime Minister Holness then announced the designated Talwrn Rural Safeguard Area (CCPA) in Parliament in November 2017. The new CCPA covered 74,726 hectares or 64% of the proposed CCSG boundary. In his address, the Prime Minister said that the CCPA would be closed to mining. Although this was an undeniable step forward in the long struggle to protect the region, areas to the west, south and northeast were left out of the new CCPA. One of these omissions in the northeast includes the Rio Bueno watershed and many rural communities, including Gibraltar, Madras, Endeavor and historic Stewart Town. These areas covered by SML 173.
SML 173 is immediately adjacent to the CCPA and covers 8,355 hectares. Ann and Trelawny. After the mining lease was issued, but before the EIA process began, and before an environmental permit was granted, Noranda cut an illegal access road to the area covered by SML 173, which attracted an apology from Mr Dell of Noranda in December 8th public consultation.
Residents of Ulster’s Spring, Alps and Sawyers in Trelawny and Madras, Barnstaple and Endeavor in St Ann have raised strong objections to expanding bauxite mining in or near their communities. Local protests have been organized by Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), Cockpit Coalition and Concerned Citizens, supported by representatives of the Maroons, Rastafari, popular entertainers like Tony Rebel and Queen Ifrica, Cockpit Country Warriors and many others. Pro and anti-mining marches were staged to Jamaica’s Parliament building in September 2019.
Communities are demanding that the effects of mining affect their rainwater catchments, public health, quality of life and safety. Gibraltar residents point to the proximity of a transit road to Gibraltar All-through School. Some villages lie directly on the border. In the west, residents of Elderslie and Catadupa have similar concerns about bauxite search activities, with many worried about reduced food security and damage to cultural and historical sites. While some residents welcome the prospect of employment, others are skeptical that the jobs will go to local people. Some communities outside the CCPA boundary but within SML 173 definitely value their rural life and livelihood; they have seen what mining has done in other parts of Jamaica, and they do not want bauxite mining. They see themselves as part of Tirwrn and point to landforms, plants and animals, and historic features as proof of this. They also have detailed local knowledge of the underground water connections.
Fears remain about the impact of bauxite mining on water resources in and around Landore, specifically the Rio Bueno catchment. The Prime Minister’s 2017 submission rightly referred to the existence of caves as evidence of underground hydrological connections, and SML 173 covers a very important aquifer recharge area. The risk of contamination or disturbance to underground flows has been dismissed by the EIA and a 2017 review carried out by hydrologist Basil Fernandez, the former Managing Director of the Water Resources Authority, found there was no evidence of contamination by mining itself over decades .
Dr Koenig notes, however, that the EIA itself describes, “… a slight increase in flow despite the diversion of the River Cave and the extraction of bauxite in the Rio Bueno Sub-basin by Kaiser Bauxite, and successor companies over the past 50 years . . ”Dr Koenig explains:“ The EIA failed to address the functional capacity of bauxite soils to hold moisture. It did not account for the fact that mining will destroy the landscape’s ability to seize nearly 36 billion liters of water at any given time. Without mining, this stored water either filters slowly to replenish the aquifer or is pulled up by tree roots and agricultural crops. With the removal of deep soils by mining, rainfall rapidly rushes to the limestone component of the aquifer and flushes away from the area. ”
At the December 8th public meeting, the AEA consultant said that if Noranda was not allowed to proceed with mining at SML 173, it would have to close, giving the impression that the decision had already been made.
The Chief Executive Officer of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), Peter Knight has advised that, due to “initial concerns”, a review of the public consultation is underway. “We will meet internally to look in detail at what happened to establish whether the public were provided with sufficient information to understand the proposed mitigation measures and whether or not the guidance was retained in the context of wider safeguarding issues” the environment. We do not intend to make an a priori decision before this review, but further discussions may be required with Noranda and their EIA adviser, and possibly at the policy level, ”he said.
There is also a 21 day comment period from the date of consultation for the submission of objections or reviews to NEPA. JET has already called for the rejection of the EIA as a whole, due to a lack of rigor and apparent bias, and a reshuffle of independent public consultation. Comments or objections during the 21 day comment period should be sent to [email protected]
After the Dec. 8 meeting, JET decided to hold an alternative public meeting. This will now take place tonight, Monday, December 21, at 9 pm Jamaican time, and will be streamed live on Jamaica TV’s facebook page at: www.facebook.com/televisionjamaica
Comments or questions before the public meeting can be sent via Whatsapp to: 1-876-381-0072.
“Bauxite mining has never been the answer to our economic problems,” says Ayesha Constable of Jamaica’s Young People for Action on Change. “Given the growing threat of devastating climate change, any economic activity that further undermines our resilience is a gap prevention action. Our leaders need to harness the innovative talents of young people to transform our societies away from fossil fuels and create more equitable and sustainable economies and societies. ”
For more information on Talwrn country and to get involved, visit the following websites:
Windsor Research Center: http://wrc.cockpitcountry.com/
South Trelawny Environmental Agency: http://stea.net/