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JET still concerned over Cockpit Country despite Gov't assurance

 The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is still expressing concern despite an announcement made in parliament on Tuesday that no bauxite mining was taking place close to or in the Cockpit Country Protected Area.
Transport and Mining Minister, Bobby Montague, reported to Cabinet that despite concerns aired by the trust, their fears that the protected area was being ravished by heavy equipment belonging to mining company Noranda, were unfounded.

“The Jamaica Bauxite Institute, Jamaica Bauxite Mining Limited and the Mines and Geology Division advise to the best of our knowledge, that Noranda Bauxite partners II (Noranda), is currently not involved in any mining activities in the area to be protected as the Cockpit Country.  The company’s bauxite mining activities are confined to two areas (SML 172 and SML 165), which are not part of the area to be protected as the Cockpit Country. A third area, SML173 adjoins the area to be protected but is not part of it and currently no mining is taking place in that area. An Environmental Impact Study has been commissioned in keeping with the requirements of the licence to determine whether or not mining can be done in that area,” Montague said.

Montague was part of a team of state-owned regulatory bodies summoned to parliament by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to address the environmentalists concerns.

The Cabinet was also given assurances that the protected area was not being violated by the National Environmental Planning Agency (NEPA), The Forestry Department and the Water Resources Authority.

However, JET contends that the designated Cockpit Country Protected Area boundary has not yet been completely verified on-the-ground, gazetted and declared protected under Jamaican law

“As a result, the CCPA has not yet been closed to mining under Jamaican law. In 2018 the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) granted a special mining lease to Noranda/New Day Bauxite Company which allows bauxite mining in sections of Cockpit Country in St Ann and Trelawny which were left out of the designated protected area. Special Exclusive Prospecting Licenses which overlap the designated Cockpit Country protected area boundary in sections of Manchester, St Elizabeth and St James have not yet been amended by GOJ,” a JET release stated.

The trust also complained that sensitisation sessions in Cockpit Country referred to by Montague in his address to Parliament which were hosted by the Forestry Department in late 2018, were poorly publicised and poorly attended.

“The sensitisation attended by JET in Mocho, St James on November 28, 2018 provided little clarity for those present on what was planned for the protected area,” the release stated.

However, the trust expressed relief that the government committed to providing more information on the process towards Cockpit Country’s protection and the activities of mining companies in the area.

The trust has since made the following requests:

- Greater clarity for the Jamaican public on where the Cockpit Country Protected Area boundary lies and what factors were used to determine its position

- A detailed updated timeline for the on-the-ground verification (ground-truthing) of the CCPA boundary by the Forestry Department

-  A deadline for when the CCPA will be declared protected and closed to mining under Jamaican law

- The GOJ's commitment that no other mining leases or prospecting licenses will be granted until the CCPA has been protected under law

- The protections that will be secured for ecologically sensitive areas of the Cockpit Country which have been left outside the designated protected area

- The available options for Cockpit Country communities which happen to lie outside the CCPA and do not want bauxite mining in their communities.