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Cockpit Country – Photo: albertdegrasse.com

Cockpit Country in Southern Trelawny

The Cockpit Country in Southern Trelawny is a mountain range that spans the neighbouring parishes of St. Ann, St. Elizabeth, and St.James. It is called the Cockpit Country because of the conical hills that have the appearance of the old fighter planes’ cockpit. It is the largest contiguous rainforest in Jamaica and contains several plants, insects and animals not found anywhere else in the entire world.

Supplies 40% of Jamaica’s Freshwater

Because of the limestone topography, it contains many caves and springs that form the head of most of the rivers in the central and western end of the island. This includes our very own Martha Brae River, that now also provides water to St. James and St. Ann, in addition to home parish Trelawny. In fact, the Cockpit Country provides 40% of the entire nations freshwater supply.

As a result, it is strongly urged that we protect the Cockpit Country. So many lives (humans, plants and animals) depend on it for survival.

Apart from the virgin areas, most of the inhabited land in Southern Trelawny is used for farming.

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Former Minister of Agriculture, Christopher Tufton, reaps potatoes from a farm in Southern Trelawny. Looking on at left is Marisa Dalrymple-Philbert, Member of Parliament.

Mining News Met With Anger

It is therefore understandable that many of us in Western Jamaica were angry when we heard the news that a mining company was encroaching on the untouchable Cockpit Country and secretly undertaking mining activities.

Back In 2012

Back in 2012, Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Minister, Robert “Bobby” Pickersgill, said that his Ministry was moving to protect the area from mining as it is far too important to be jeopardised in this manner. Now, was the same minister Pickersgill aware of mining activities in 2015?

Mining Scandal?

A mining scandal touching the highest levels of government has erupted over the past couple of months in Jamaica, traditionally one of the world’s great centres for bauxite mining, with companies such as Alcan, Kaiser and Alpart active in the country over the decades.

The latest brouhaha centres around a wide region of relatively pristine mountainous forest reserve in western Jamaica named “Cockpit Country” that supplies 40% of the water for western Jamaica. Underlying the forest are valuable limestone and bauxite resources.

Local conservationists found in May that preparations for bauxite mining were quietly underway within the still-disputed reserve boundaries, without public consultation or awareness. Mining was allegedly carried out by NYSE-listed, former Xstrata and Falconbridge subsidiary Noranda Aluminum Holding Corp., which has a 4.5-million-ton-per-year bauxite mine at St. Ann, Jamaica, and downstream aluminum facilities across the southeastern U.S.

The conservationist Windsor Research Centre, located 5 km inside Cockpit Country, reported seeing mining equipment and haul road extension works at the Madras/Caledonia crossroad near Bryan Castle in St. Ann, with the new haul road “outside the Special Mining Lease (SML) 165, which Noranda inherited from St. Ann Bauxite Ltd., and penetrating so-called Special Reserves, which are inside Cockpit Country.” According to SML 165, the centre said, “these reserves are to be used only if it turns out that there is less bauxite than predicted within the said SML.”

Noranda stressed that all its work in the country has had the requisite permitting, and that “Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners has not conducted mining operations outside of St. Ann or outside of areas authorized by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute and the Commissioner of Mines,” leaving observers to conclude that for some reason a coterie at the highest levels of the Jamaican government had given the permits to mine in a secluded area, without informing lower levels of governments or local populations.

According to the Jamaican Observer, the government’s own environmental watchdog, the National Environment and Planning Agency, sought to verify the complaints lodged with the office, with the agency’s CEO Peter Knight saying that “suffice it to say, if mining is taking place and if they have encroached on Cockpit Country, it will be stopped.”

 

Who Is Lying?

Now who is lying, and who should we believe. Should we believe the Windsor Research Center who reported mining activity? Should we believe Noranda, the mining company, who said they had all the requisite permits for their activity? Should we believe that the Jamaican government has gone back on its 2012 word and now quietly given the go-ahead to Noranda? Let’s hope the truth will be revealed soon. We will post any new developments in this matter.

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