The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is today June 5) asking questions of the Government with respect to the West Indies Alumina Company’s (Windalco) Ewarton operations in St Catherine, whose permits are now in limbo.
JET, in a statement on Monday, is querying the plant’s status as the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) had reinstated its notice of intention (NOI) to suspend Windalco’s environmental permits.
JET contended that the NOI was issued largely due to Windalco failing to construct a new effluent holding Pond, which the local watchdog noted was to be completed by December 2022.
“The deadline for the notice of intention to suspend the permits expired on May 31, 2023. Over their many years of operation, WINDALCO, currently owned by UC Rusal Alumina Jamaica Ltd. (UC Rusal), has received multiple enforcement notices for the release of toxic effluent into the Rio Cobre and following the July 2022 pollution event NEPA, in August 2022, issued a NOI to suspend their permit,” JET said.
“Considering that WINDALCO has been implicated in multiple pollution events over the years and is in court for releases that occurred in 2019, 2021, and 2022, JET requests information on the action which will now be taken regarding WINDALCO’s permits and licenses,” the group added.
JET also cited NEPA’s chief exec Peter Knight, who in August 2022, delivered a firm stance against Windalco and assured the mining company would be held accountable for repeated effluent discharges in the Rio Cobre, which resulted in several fish kills.
“Effective today, and going forward, the Agency will adopt an even more aggressive posture against companies, businesses and individuals found in breach of permits and licences or those taking actions we consider deleterious to the environment, and good environmental management and stewardship,” Knight said at the time.
In light of these developments, JET is pressing the Government for greater transparency on the following:
- Has the new Environmental Performance Bond been posted to the relevant commercial bank by WINDALCO?
- On March 30, 2023, NEPA advised that the restocking of the river was to be completed by May 2023. What is the status of this?
- Has the ecological assessment and the natural resources valuation of the Rio Cobre, announced by NEPA on March 30, 2023, been completed?
- On May 14, 2023, NEPA issued a press release following community reports of another recent pollution event in the Rio Cobre. In its release, NEPA stated that their technical team conducted “assessments” along the entire river and no “physical evidence of pollutants” was found and there were no impacts on the river ecosystems. Despite requests for further clarification, to date NEPA has not indicated the nature of the assessments and whether it included water sample collection and analysis. Assuming such tests were done, JET is requesting that the results be made public in the interests of transparency.