KINGSTON, October 31, 2021: Opposition Spokesperson on Land, Environment & Climate Change, Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns, has called on the National Environmental Protection Agency, NEPA, to again review the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Special Mining Lease (SML) 173, which it recently published.
SML 173 is the agreement for bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country, which was revised earlier this year after concerns were raised by environmentalists and other interest groups. The Government had modified SML 173 which would have authorised Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II to mine 8,335 hectares of land in the Cockpit Country. The adjustment, according to Transport and Mining Minister Robert Montague, resulted in around 6,000 hectares of land being removed from the original SML.
However, In a release on Sunday, Senator Frazer-Binns said the EIA has left more questions than answers, and is particularly concerned that the state agency with responsibility for environmental protection would regard such an assessment as final.
She observed that “upon close review of the document, it appears that stakeholders' concerns and queries have largely been disregarded or overlooked.” She opines that stakeholders remain concerned about the threat that bauxite mining poses to our underground water supply as well as the Rio Bueno's watershed protection area.
In addition to the fact that stakeholders' concerns were ignored, critical maps depicting underground water flows have been conspicuously removed from the final version of the document.
“The Prime Minister, Mr. Andrew Holness cannot in good faith attend COP26, demanding international climate action and financing while simultaneously destroying vital forest reserves that reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change locally,” said Frazer- Binns.
The Opposition Spokesperson stated that Cockpit Country is Jamaica's largest remaining natural forest which produces over 40% of the country's fresh water. It is vital for climate resiliency. She warned that, “Bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country will endanger the lives of thousands of Jamaicans and push us farther and faster into the climate crisis”.
It is for these reasons that the Opposition asks for a further review of the "Final EIA".
Senator Frazer Binns further noted that her motion in the Senate for a Joint Select Committee of Parliament to review the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, NEPA and the EIA process becomes more urgent everyday and calls for its earliest debate.
It is critical that the Jamaican government recognizes that Climate Change is an existential threat to Jamaicans by taking action.
The Cockpit Country stakeholder group said it reviewed the many submissions made by a range of stakeholders to NEPA in 2020, including local residents, Jamaicans of all walks of life, academia, experts in karst topography, hydrogeology and biodiversity– and found virtually no effort to address the serious deficiencies in the Corrigenda EIA Report, which it said appeared to be the only response to the issues raised.
“One of the most significant issues which remains unaddressed is the question of the risk posed by bauxite mining in the area delineated by Special Mining Lease (SML) 173 to underground water supplies in the watershed protection area of a major river, the Rio Bueno,” the stakeholder group said.
The group said it had also taken note of an advertisement in the weekend newspapers showing a map of an area referred to as the ‘clawed back’ area, which it said “does not even remotely encompass the 6,000 hectares” which Montague indicated would be removed from the lease.
“More than one-half of this ‘clawed back’ area encompasses Forest Reserves, which, according to the earlier EIA, would not have been mined in any event. We seek a much clearer explanation of this ‘clawed back’ area before any decision is taken on the boundary of SML 173 and a new public consultation is required,” the stakeholder group said.
The organization stressed that the Cockpit Country is the largest remaining natural forest in Jamaica, supplies about 40 percent of Jamaica’s fresh water needs and is home to many endemic plants and animals.
“It is also an important cultural and historical site for Jamaicans, particularly the Maroons, and is important for climate resilience,” they pointed out.
“Bauxite mining in Cockpit Country would remove the deep soils for which forests and agricultural livelihoods depend, compromise air quality, harm the health and wellbeing of thousands of Jamaican citizens and risk important water resources,” the group lamented.