In November 2010, a young family – husband, wife, son – showed up at the front door of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET). They lived at 10 Mile in Bull Bay in St Andrew, and were concerned that their community was at risk from the nearby mining operation of Caribbean Cement/Jamaica Gypsum and Quarries. They told us of a significant flooding event in 2002, when many homes in their community were badly damaged. The residents of 10 Mile were still seeing build up of the mining waste and feared the same thing would happen again. We went with them that same day and saw what appeared to us to be a very worrying pile of tailings that had been dumped in a river course.
JET contacted the Company and the regulators, obtained the various licenses and rehabilitation plans, and in May 2011, were taken on a tour of the mining operations by Caribbean Cement’s Acting Quarries Manager.
On this visit, we observed that there was some effort underway to remove the tailings, but the situation still appeared unsatisfactory. We did not think we had the required technical expertise to assess the risks to the community and to the environment or to make suitable recommendations, however, so we called on ELAW for help. And help ELAW did.
Professor Glenn Miller, a Board member of ELAW who is also a mining industry expert and a professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Nevada, agreed to visit the quarries in July 2011. Glenn flew to Jamaica during an unusually rainy week, and on July 13, 2011, Glenn, Danielle, and I toured the mining area, escorted by representatives from the Company.
Because it was raining, Glenn was able to see where the river flowed, where it was blocked, and also the amount of silt in the water – the mine is very near to the coast. We climbed on top of the huge pile of tailings, criss crossed with large fissures. There was one moment when I looked at Glenn and Danielle standing on this obviously unstable material at the edge of a cliff and thought: But we are risking our lives! This thing could collapse at any minute! And we could see the houses of the community far below in the valley.
Glenn was able to confirm our impression of the mine – this was a highly unsatisfactory and dangerous situation. After the site visit, we met both with senior executives of the Company and convened a large meeting of the regulatory bodies and showed them the photographs we had taken. Glenn then drafted a report containing a series of recommendations to improve the operation of the mine and begin rehabilitation, and this has been sent to the Company and the regulatory agencies. JET will continue to monitor the operation and hope for some early improvements.
By coincidence, while Glenn was in Jamaica, there was a cyanide spill at an abandoned gold mine and he was able to give technical advice to the regulators and consultants involved in cleaning it up.
JET is very grateful to ELAW and to Glenn for helping us with this – and we hope our intervention will avoid a catastrophic slope failure in 10 Mile, Bull Bay, with serious consequences for those who live there. We also hope for improvements in the regulatory environment for mining generally – as this particular mine really highlighted those weaknesses as well.
Chief Executive Officer
Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)