KINGSTON — Operations at the gold mine in Pennants, Clarendon, which ceased nearly two years ago, could resume soon, according to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).
Chief Executive Officer of NEPA, Peter Knight, told journalists at a media briefing at the agency's Cross Roads, St. Andrew offices on July 18, that they were “advised” that the operators, AUSJAM Limited, “wished to return to re-activate the site."
This is based on reports of additional gold deposits in the area, as well as a Notice of Intent issued by NEPA, to revoke AUSJAM’s environmental permit, which authorised the entity to engage in mining activities.
The permit for mining was granted by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) in 1997, without the provision of a closure plan, in keeping with stated stipulations. The gold mine is the first and only such facility to be operated in Jamaica.
Commissioner of the Mines and Geology Division, Ministry of Energy and Mining, Clinton Thompson, who also spoke at the briefing, said based on their knowledge of the area’s geology, “there are some more deposits on the site which require further exploration."
“That was why closure of the mine was not affected. When the mine (was being) operated, gold was less than US$300 per ounce; it’s now US$1,500. You can recognise the importance of that deposit, which is the patrimony of the Jamaican people,” Mr. Thompson said.
Labour and Social Security Minister, and Member of Parliament for North Central Clarendon, where Pennants is located, Hon. Pearnel Charles, who also attended the briefing, informed that he met with representatives of AUSJAM Limited in 2010, “who assured me that they were going to get back into operation this year."
The Minister added, however, that out of an abundance of caution, he asked the Ministry of Energy and Mining to give consideration to “taking over” the mining operations.
“Between 20 and 30 persons used to get employment from this little operation. We understand we still have small reserves that could be explored, and we could continue mining. We want to carry on the mining,” Mr. Charles said.
Regarding the revocation notice issued in 2010, Mr. Knight informed that NEPA encountered challenges finding AUSJAM’s principals who had reportedly relocated the firm to Australia, subsequent to ceasing mining operations.
The CEO said, however, that the principals have since been located, and are currently in the island for discussions with the local authorities regarding their input in addressing the matter. There is also the issue of toxic contamination surfacing last week, linked to over seven tonnes of sodium cyanide which were being stored at the site.
A highly toxic chemical, sodium cyanide is reportedly used extensively in mining operations globally. It is believed to have been used in the gold mining activities at Pennants
Mr. Knight advised that in addition to the Notice, NEPA also moved to secure the container storing the chemical.
Housing, Environment and Water Minister, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, who provided an update at the briefing, informed that the actions which have commenced include: relocation of the container; cordoning of the mine site to restrict unauthorised access; cleaning up of the chemical leaked; and the erection of signs warning individuals to avoid the area.
While assuring that steps have been taken to safeguard the citizens’ welfare, Dr. Chang warned that, “If the situation changes and gold mining poses a threat…that environmental permit would be revoked."
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter