The demonstrators had on their side, a friend and another powerful voice in parliament: That of Opposition leader Dr. Peter Phillips who has come down on the side of residents and environmentalists in the Cockpit debacle.
They are objecting to further bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country, which is rich in unique medicinal plants and is home to 40 percent of the nation’s precious domestic water supply and threatens the sustainability of Jamaica's historical moniker and tag-line "Land of Wood and Water."
The residents of the area maintain that in as much as the Amazon forest can be described as the lungs of the world, in much the same manner, the Cockpit Country can be considered the virtual lungs of Jamaica's environment.
Phillips, on Friday, toured sections of Special Mining Lease where Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners II was slated to start mining later in this month. The protestors are adamant that government rescind the go-ahead given to Noranda to mine the area deemed as Special Mining Lease173.
The bauxite company has been ordered to place its mining plans on hold by the country's National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which has placed under review, the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, which a prerequisite to allowing any mining activity to take place.
Dr. Phillips has joined the residents of upper Trelawny, in communities like Gibraltar, in St. Ann; and Sawyers, Alps and Ulster Spring, in maintaining that all mining incursion in the contested area should stop. The residents are of the view that mining could negatively impact their lives economically, socially and culturally and environmentally.
“I think there is to be much more participation with the affected citizens and to that extent, what they need now to do, is to stop any mining incursion into the contested area, where the citizens are protesting that there should be no mining,” said Phillips, who also met with bauxite workers with opposing views in St. Ann.
Phillips, like other environmental stakeholders, such as the South Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), is of the view that the process is flawed and needs to be reviewed.
“The process is obviously flawed in that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not done before the license was issued and now it is not being shared with the people involved, even though there has been no pull-back of the mining license given in the area,” said Dr. Phillips.
“I think the process is flawed, it is disrespectful to the people in the communities and we need to get it back on track by having a re-visit of all the issues involved so that we can move forward. We need a balanced solution that takes account of the interest of all the parties involved,” added Phillips who has declared himself an ally of all the affected parties.
Responding to a recent statement by environmentalist Hugh Dixon, who heads STEA, that the defenders of the Cockpit Country have no allies in parliament, Phillips said “We are allies with all the citizens affected, residents of the Cockpit Country, the stakeholders, especially the workers in the industry (bauxite) and the generation of the future, who want a sustainable economic base.
The Opposition Leader went on to challenge the government’s effectiveness in terms of creating a sustainable economic base for the country in the sector, arguing that their policies are outdated.
“It is obvious that the current economic foundation on which the government is basing its policies are obsolete, we are not getting the growth, it is not sustainable and it threatens our environmental legacy, our social legacy and our cultural legacy in ways that are unacceptable to the People’s National Party (PNP),” said Phillips, who was recently re-elected as leader of the PNP.
Dixon used the opportunity of the Opposition Leader's visit to the area, especial SML 173, which is believed to be the last major target for those seeking to mine the area, to provide Dr. Phillips with a comprehensive overview of the contested area and used a powerpoint presentation to bolster his presentation.
“I like results, my operation is based on results. I have heard Dr. Phillips, I appreciate that he has come,” said Dixon. “However, I have no guarantees as yet from anybody that no mining will take place and for me, what is going to be important are the steps that can be measured towards ensuring that no mining takes place.”
While agreeing to pursue a recommendation from Dr. Phillips to petition the parliament to make his cases via his powerpoint presentation, Dixon believes the parliament is already properly informed on the issues.
“I have placed the information in the hands of the two critical people, one being Mining Minister Robert Montaque and the other being the opposition leader. It would be nice to hear Dr. Phillips debating the matter with Bobby Montaque based on the same information I have provided with in terms of the peoples' concern here on the ground in the Cockpit Country.”
In the meantime, Noranda Bauxite Jamaica says that preventing it from mining bauxite reserves granted under Special Mining Lease (SML) 173 would have a serious impact on direct and indirect jobs, as well as export earnings and taxes it contributes to the Jamaican economy.
The bauxite compan says if it is precluded from mining the reserves, all of which fall outside of the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA), it will be forced to mine lesser quality bauxite at much further haul distances.
“The resulting economic impact, which will be felt in the relatively near future, will jeopardise Noranda's ability to sustain the more than 800 direct and 4,000 indirect jobs, and the millions of US dollars in export earnings, taxes and other outgoings, that the company contributes to the Jamaican economy,” Noranda said.
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