Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips and senior members of his party met Friday (Sept 13) with residents and potential miners in the Cockpit Country to try to arrive at a consensus about mining in the area.
The residents of the Cockpit County, which covers portions of Trelawny, St. Ann and St. Elizabeth, and particularly those of Gibraltar in St. Ann, want a halt to further mining in the area, citing a loss of livelihood and the degeneration of their community.
Cyrus McFarlane, 80, who operated a small farm in Gibraltar, said he lost all three acres of his property, which at one point boasted banana, yam, plantain and other crops, and now gets by on the $8,000 he receives every month from the mining company for dust nuisance. He is not alone. Some 2500 farmers in the area have reportedly been displaced due to mining.
Lynden Frater who operates more than 20 acres of farmland had recently invested $80 million into modernizing his farm and divesting the crops planted. He wants the government to protect farmers in the Cockpit Country and encourage industries that are eco-friendly.
However, the miners are disputing that they are mining in the protected area. They want the opposition to support their claim to mine in the area known as SML 172, in accordance with their licence. The area designated SML 172 covers parts of St Ann and Trelawny.
When Phillips met with the miners Friday, they were in a militant mood. The miners said that they have invested billions of dollars in equipment. Some suggested that there would be lawsuits if there were no mining in the area.
The Opposition Leader Dr Phillips managed to cool some heads during the discussion. He pointed out that the matter would not be solved overnight but he needs both sides to sit at a table and come to a balanced solution.
Phillips is concerned that communities in the proposed mining area will be wiped off the map if excavation begins.
“We have seen many communities that used to be thriving agricultural communities in south Manchester and elsewhere that used to produce families just simply disappear. We have seen companies come make millions of dollars and have gone. The original mining companies are no longer here. We need a balanced approach and we have to be honest with ourselves with how best we are going to protect our future and it does not mean anyone has to lose their work,” he said.