Cockpit Country row still simmering – Montague
THE LEGAL wrangling over the verification and establishment of the Protected Area boundary within the Cockpit Country is not likely to be resolved any time soon.
That was the main take-away from Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague’s contribution to the Sectoral Debate on Tuesday.
Montague said that Prime Minister Andrew Holness had, with the backing of the Cabinet, taken particular interest in seeking to establish the boundaries of the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA).
“The order goes further to state that important cultural sites that are outside of the published boundaries will be protected,” said Montague.
“So when we say that there will not be any mining in the Cockpit Country, we not only mean it, but we have placed that commitment – not a promise – within legal protection.”
Environmentalists, non-governmental organisations, and residents of Trelawny have come out fighting against the granting of licences to Noranda Bauxite Company to tap the area defined as Special Mining Lease (SML 173). The area, comprising more than 8,000 acres, has been a source of dispute, with Noranda insisting that it falls outside the boundaries of the CCPA. However, critics resisting the mining interests argue that SML 173 is part of the broader of Cockpit Country.
However, an expert who has close knowledge of the creation of the CCPA boundaries told The Gleaner on Tuesday that much of the misinformation being generated stems from ignorance that there are, in fact, two boundaries – one geological and the other legal.
“There is no question about the core boundary, but the protected boundary is still being validated, surveyed, everything, and that is still happening now,” said the geological expert, who requested anonymity because the issue has become a political dynamite.
“Mining cannot happen in the Protected Area, which is the bigger area, so since the boundary has not been validated yet, they cannot proceed,” he said.
The issue had appeared to be nearing settlement with Prime Minister Andrew Holness making declarations at the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Livestock Show in Denbigh, Clarendon, last August.
“There can’t be any contemplation of anything such as mining or any environmentally damaging practices. Those things must thoroughly be studied, and there is now a process, which I gather has now been completed, of the conduct of an environmental impact assessment and that will come to us,” Holness said.
However, three weeks after this assurance, the issue was further embroiled in controversy when the country’s environmental regulatory and monitoring agency was forced to admit that the environmental impact assessment in question was flawed and so could not be circulated for the necessary scrutiny by stakeholders.
Montague admitted in his contribution that the concerns raised by residents of Albert Town, Trelawny, about discomfort with the proposed boundary had resulted in him taking a trip to meet with them. Despite this, the issue is still far from being resolved.
“I heard their concerns and then engaged our valued partners through consultations with them in New York. The citizens made a suggestion to resolve the issues and the holders of the mining leases have made a counterproposal. The Jamaica Bauxite Institute and other government agencies have been brought in and the talks are proceeding.
“When the discussions are amicably resolved, the House will be updated,” Montague said.