Windalco-NEPA talks on waste storage stall - Entities yet to meet on 2018 recommendations to address effluent problem
Upgrading the effluent holding facilities at the Windalco plant in St Catherine may lessen the likelihood of caustic waste finding its way into the Rio Cobre, an executive at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has suggested.
Last week, effluent from the bauxite company’s property flowed into the Rio Cobre, causing a massive fish kill and reports of several persons falling ill after using water or consuming fish from the river. The contamination is believed to have been caused by an overflow of effluent at the bauxite plant.
Richard Nelson, senior manager of the environmental management subdivision at NEPA, told The Gleaner yesterday that the agency had recommended that Windalco increase the capacity of the current holding pond and construct a new one following similar crises in 2018.
“Last year, we had quite a few spills, so as it rained slightly – nothing compared to what we experienced the last couple of weeks – there were issues, and when we did our investigations, the capacity of the pond was again not enough, and so two things we said to them: increase the capacity of the pond currently by dredging, as well as explore the option of either expanding the size of the pond or building a new one,” Nelson said.
The senior manager said Windalco was instructed to begin construction of a new holding pond by June, but the company appealed the enforcement order, citing technical and budgetary constraints.
Nelson said that at the time, Windalco committed to carry out dredging – the removal of silt – from the effluent holding ponds as they awaited further discussion with NEPA. The Gleaner understands that a year later, talks are yet to happen.
The senior manager said that since 2011, Windalco has been issued with at least six enforcement notices, the latest of which was given last Friday.
When asked about its next steps, Nelson said that NEPA will be scheduling a meeting with Windalco. He, however, could not provide a timeline.
Meanwhile, residents of the Treadways division in St Catherine, one of the communities affected by the effluent spill, are upset.
Councillor Sydney Rose is charging that NEPA has been negligent and the residents are incensed.
“They are very irate. They are very upset ... . It is a very delicate balance that we have to treat with in respect to Windalco,” Rose told The Gleaner.
“You see, I can’t say I want the bauxite company to close down, because it would be a devastating blow to the economy of Jamaica, not only affecting them (community members), but all of us. So we have to find a way [to fix the issues],” he said.
Member of Parliament for St Catherine North Central, Natalie Neita, has threatened to take legal action against Windalco on behalf of her constituents who live along the banks of the Rio Cobre.