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JIS News

Energy and Mining Minister, Hon. James Robertson, is optimistic of an earlier than anticipated restart of full operations by at least one of the island’s bauxite/alumina companies, West Indies Alumina Company Limited (WINDALCO).
The Minister’s optimism comes in light of “early works” which are being undertaken at WINDALCO’s plant in Ewarton, St. Catherine.
“Looking. at the early works. we are very happy with what we have seen,” he stated during a tour of the facility on Thursday (May 20), along with representatives of the Ministry; the Russian alumina firm, UC Rusal, which manages WINDALCO’s operations; the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI); and the Office of the Commissioner of Mines.
Speaking with JIS News, Mr. Robertson, while not able to say when WINDALCO’s operations are expected to restart, pointed out that both the Government and UC Rusal have been in discussions regarding the inputs from either side for the resumption. The aim, he said, is to ensure that WINDALCO is well positioned to operate efficiently once production gets underway.
“We have been told what is required of us by the managers, UC Rusal, what they need to see us, the Government, put in place. So the Ministry knows what’s ahead of us. (and) they know what’s ahead of them, before a decision can be made for a re-start. What I’m doing is making sure the inputs, the cost factors in our bauxite alumina industry, allows us to be one of the top producing. countries,” he stated.
Among the activities being undertaken, Mr. Robertson informed, is overall de-scaling operations, and the resuscitation of key equipment such as the Number Three Turbine at Ewarton that helps to power the facility. He said UC Rusal has given the assurance that the turbine, which sustained damage during last year’s hurricane season, will be back in operation by June 17.
The Ministry, for its part, is looking to source more affordable options to oil for use by the bauxite companies, particularly Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), Mr. Robertson said, and assured that “we are on track to making sure that, that (LNG) project comes through.”
Other undertakings by the Ministry include a new fiscal regime for the industry, which the Minister advised “has been looked at by a number of people, (including) the Cabinet”, as well as repairs to the railway lines, parts of which have either been damaged or stolen.
The railway network is key to moving bauxite and alumina to ports for shipping overseas, as well as for transporting production inputs to the plants, such as caustic soda and crude oil. Mr. Robertson advised that Transport and Works Minister, Hon. Michael Henry, who has portfolio responsibility for the railway, “is on top of that” effort.
“If these things are not in place. we won’t have an industry, and we won’t have a future,” he said.
Minister Henry, later joined the touring party at a section of the bauxite railway corridor in Bog Walk, St. Catherine, where they perused the state of the track and apprized themselves of the extent of work to be undertaken.
Mr. Henry told JIS News that several matters, including the cost for the use of the railway network by the bauxite companies would be “revisited” by his Ministry.
Additionally, he advised that, at a later date, he would speak to the future of the railway system, and a study, which has been undertaken to this effect.
Operations at WINDALCO’s plants in Ewarton and Kirkvine, Manchester, were scaled down last year by UC Rusal, consequent on the downturn in world demand for bauxite and alumina resulting from the global recession.
The decline led to significant decreases in foreign exchange earnings from this sector, which accounts for some 60 per cent of the country’s revenue. The developments also resulted in upwards of 1,000 employees being laid off.