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Alpart mines bauxite on densely populated lands: We depend on the support of the local communities

A significant portion of the raw material used in Norwegian aluminium smelters is produced on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. The bauxite mining is taking place on the countryside near the town of Mandeville and more than a thousand farmers have been resettled since Norsk Hydro acquired part ownership of Jamaica's largest company, Alpart. Most families are compensated with new houses and gardens but many residents still complain about noise and dust from the mining operations.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
A significant portion of the raw material used in Norwegian aluminium smelters is produced on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. The bauxite mining is taking place on the countryside near the town of Mandeville and more than a thousand farmers have been resettled since Norsk Hydro acquired part ownership of Jamaica's largest company, Alpart. Most families are compensated with new houses and gardens but many residents still complain about noise and dust from the mining operations.


By Jørn Stave
Norwatch
 
- We have a day to day battle to ensure that the local communities support the mining, says General Manager of Alpart's mining operations, Lyle Newbold.   

The company's impacts are not small-scale; more than a thousand hectares of land have been dug up to extract the bauxite, which is located below the top-soil and down to about 15 metres. Large pits surrounded by trees, grazing lands, and small crop fields form a mosaic across the Manchester Plateau, where Alpart is mining the raw material used in Hydro's aluminium production. 

New houses
A total of 1215 persons, mainly small-scale farmers, have been resettled since 1993, according to Alpart's own figures. However, this number only includes those compensated with new houses and not the farmers who have been given new agricultural lands or who have leased their lands to the company.

- We use several strategies to get access to mining lands. It is important that the vendor becomes satisfied with the deal and the negotiations may therefore turn out differently according to the needs of the land owner, explains Judith Ogilive, who is responsible for the company's land acquisition programme.

Most farmers accept the offer which provides them with a new house and garden. Alpart has funded the construction of several resettlement communities in the vicinity of the mining areas. These are supplied with electricity and roads. Moreover, the houses get piped water, or alternatively, a water tank.

Jane Brissett was resettled a couple of years ago and is now living in a house built by the company outside the country's third largest town, Mandeville.

- The new house is at least as good as the old one, and now we also have a telephone. Before they moved us, we lived next to the conveyor belt, which carries bauxite to the plant in the valley. The noise made it difficult to sleep in the night, says Jane Brissett.

NorWatch talked to a number of people who were pleased with the compensation they got from the company, but a few complained that the crop yields had been reduced. Some claim the reason to be dust from the mining operations, whereas others say the soil is less productive after the bauxite has been removed.

According to the Mining Act of 1947, mined-out lands should be restored to the level of agricultural or pastoral productivity as existed prior to mining. When the bauxite deposits have been emptied, the pits are filled with stones and soil in order to resemble the previous topography. Thereafter the top-soil, which has been stored during mining, is put back and various grasses are planted.

- Most mined-out areas are used for grazing but we have also had success with planting peanuts and other crops. Our trials show that the post-mining soils are as productive as the pre-mining soils, emphasises Frank Ross, who is Development Programme Administrator at Alpart.

However, Dianne Gordon of Jamaica Bauxite Institute says that not all crops are adapted to mined-out soils, and that high yields require appropriate agricultural methods. Considering that people are supposed to continue living on mined-out lands long after the bauxite companies have left, it is of crucial importance that agriculture is not permanently affected.

Dust and noise
Even though the mining lands by law must be restored to their earlier function after the bauxite is removed, about 30% of Alpart's pits have still not been reclaimed. Both Alpart and other bauxite companies have been criticised for this delay, but according to General Manager Lyle Newbold, the slow progress is partly due to the planning of a new airport outside Mandeville, which makes the government not to allow restoration of this area. The political debate about the airport has been going on for years and until the government decides whether to start the construction works or not, the open pits will remain as they are.

The Mining Act also states that the company must ask the land owner for permission to mine closer than 100 metres from his home. Consequently, Alpart is compensating farmers who live in close proximity to a pit.

- My family was left with two opportunities; resettlement or compensation in terms of a new road and cash, tells Gvy Hanson, who lives only 15 meters from one of the pits.

- We chose to stay here close to our family and friends. The mining does of course make a lot of noise but fortunately they do not work between 6 pm and 8 am. We are therefore quite satisfied with the way the company has treated us. One problem however is all the dust, which sometimes gives us headache and makes the fruit trees bear less than before.

Complaints about dust and noise also appear when NorWatch visits Berry Hill, a small community close to the conveyor belt which runs from the Manchester Plateau to the alumina refinery.

- We are only compensated J$ 500 (US$ 11) a month for the noise. This is "monkey money", which by no means satisfy our needs, says a frustrated Mable Thomson. She has a small garden and tries to earn something extra by selling groceries along the road.           

According to General Manager Lyle Newbold, there is a lot of frustration among the residents. He believes the main reason to be the government's failure to return money generated from the mining operations back into the communities.

- A lot of people view Alpart as their local "government" and many illegitimate claims are therefore directed towards the company. In my opinion, the authorities should pump much more of the taxes and royalties paid by Alpart back into the local economy. This would also ensure stable conditions for our operations.

However, the Vice President of the National Workers Union, Norman DaCosta, says it may only be a matter of time until the residents will become fed up with the current practice of mining. DaCosta claims that sooner or later it will no longer be socially acceptable to dig in someone's garden.

Until that situation occurs, Alpart will continue its mining operations on the Manchester Plateau, where there still are long-term deposits. The neighbouring company, Jamalco (Alcoa Jamaica), is also mining bauxite in the same area and the two companies established a joint-venture in 1998. The intention is to make the operations more cost-efficient and competitive. The joint-venture is named AMV (Alpart Mining Venture) and Alpart is the main shareholder (59.6%).

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"We have a day to day battle to ensure that the local communities support the mining"
 Lyle Newbold, General Manager of Alpart Mining Venture, 31.04.2001 

"We are only compensated J$ 500 (US$ 11) a month for the noise. This is "monkey money", which by no means satisfy our needs."
Mable Thomson, resident of Berry Hill, 03.05.2001

Norwatch Newsletter 6/01

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