New Windalco pond could end Rio Cobre fish kill
Mining Minister Robert Montague has expressed optimism that the creation of a new effluent holding pond in Ewarton, St Catherine, will stop the overflow of effluent into the Rio Cobre.
Last Thursday, West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco), a bauxite company based in Ewarton, broke ground for a $620-million effluent holding pond on 25 acres of land near its plant in Ewarton, to supplement the existing pond that has been the subject of caustic overflows.
"No longer, once there is rain, will we have any contamination from the bauxite red mud lake getting into the Rio Cobre. If there is contamination after this, it must be from another source, but certainly not from Windalco," Montague said, while speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony.
"Will that pond stop the overflow into the Rio Cobre? Yes! Will that pond stop the overflow that results in the fish kill? Yes! Will that pond, at the end of the day, result in a better environment for all of us and to create balance between industry and nature? Yes!," Montague added.
Last August, environmental watchdogs, Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), said that Windalco (over decades and under different management/ownership) has received multiple breach notices for pollution of the Rio Cobre. JET, in a media release, noted that Windalco is currently the defendants in a legal case filed by the National Environment and Planning Agency over a 2019 discharge into the river which resulted in a massive fish kill and several persons falling ill.
At the time, JET was reacting to claims that the bauxite company may have contributed to a fish kill in the Rio Cobre after it acknowledged that effluent spilled from its holding pond into the river during heavy rains a few days earlier.
However, Windalco has denied being responsible for August's fish kill. It said that, based on its monitoring data and the preventative measures employed, "We are confident that the spillage did not have any deleterious impact on the environment".
"We do not accept liability for the fish kill; however, we are mindful of the importance of the river to residents in and around the affected areas of the Rio Cobre, and have taken measures to restore normalcy to the river, inclusive of the removal of dead fish."
Construction of the pond is scheduled for completion by year's end. The new pond will also increase the life of Windalco's existing mudstacking facility.
Windalco's country manager, Sergey Kostyuk, said that the facility will prevent overflows into the environment.
"This is a huge environmental project to prevent any spillage into the gully," he said.