MONROVIA: The citizens of Jikandor, a town within the proximity of mining activities of the Bea Mountain Mining Company are raising concerns on the contamination of the Marvoe Creek on which they depend for drinking water, food protein, cooking, bathing and other uses has been contaminated by the mining company and they are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “do the right thing” for them consistent with the duties imposed upon it, and the powers and authority granted it under the Environmental Protection Agency Act, created as an instrumentality to protect the environment in Liberia and sustainable use of the natural resources”
Addressing a press conference on Friday, September 8, 2023 Cllr, Benedict F. Sannoh, legal counsel of the people gave an over on deprivation, inconvenience, pain and suffering of the people of Jikandor as a result of the contamination of their waters. an update of the findings and recommendations of the EPA Investigation Team that investigated the incidents, and the extent to which these recommendations have been implemented by EPA and the Management of Bea Mountain, as well as an overview of the efforts of the people of Jikandor to have their concerns addressed amicably and the callous disregard of these attempts by the management of Bea Mountain and the relevant institutions of Government and the next steps by the people of Jikandor to protect their rights under the laws of Liberia.
Giving the background of the pollution, Sannoh said on May 22, 2022 the people of Jikandor saw several dead, decomposed fish species and shrimp in the Marvoe Creek and noted that when a dog ate one of the fish, it died instantly. He said the immediately reported this incident to the management of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Agency of Government responsible for the protection of the environment.
He said three days after, EPA dispatched a team of technicians to Jikandor and launched an investigation where the team after a thorough investigation confirmed evidence of dead, decomposed fish species, in the Marvoe creek downstream, and determined that the death of the fish species was due to asphyxiation (deprivation of oxygen) due to the spillage of cyanide from the Tailings Storage facility at New Liberty Gold mine of Bea Mountain.
“You will recall that In a Press release issued by the Executive Director of EPA, Hon. Wilson K. Tarpeh, following the aforesaid investigation, EPA stated that its investigation found a “higher than the permissible level of free cyanides with sources from the Bea Mountain Corporation Tilling storage facility resulting in reduction of dissolved oxygen level and death” to aquatic species including fish, crabs, crawfish, and other fauna inhabitants; and these fatalities were caused by asphyxiation (deprivation of oxygen needed to sustain life under water). The Press Release also stated that “the presence of excess cyanide led to the contamination of the water sources and that the situation has severely disrupted and injured the livelihood of the communities that depend on those water resources for their livelihood, Sannoh said”
Speaking further, the renowned legal luminary said on the strength of its findings, the team advanced some recommendations for the management of EPA and for Bea Mountain, among which are that Bea Mountain provides water and food kind to the people of Jikandor for 90 days, beginning Tuesday, 31 May 2022 and to continue subject to extension based on prevailing water quality at the time of expiry, that a full-scale assessment of the situation be conducted to determine the magnitude of the pollution and develop a road map for restoration at the expense of BMMC and that EPA ensures that Bea Mountain develops a “Restoration Plan,” through a third-party EPA-certified consultancy firm and submit said plan to the EPA for approval, within 14 days,
The team also recommended that EPA should advise Bea Mountain to expedite the relocation of the people of Jikandor and that EPA should ensure the conduct a full-scale assessment of the Tailings Storage Facility at Bea Mountain’s operational site and compliance with its design, environmental management plan and permit conditions.
Speaking further, Sannoh said On February 23, 2023, nine months later while the recommendations advanced by the EPA Investigation Team from the May 21, 2022 incident was still pending unimplemented, by both Bea Mountain and EPA, a second incident occurred on February 23, 2023 in which several fishes and aquatic species were again found dead along the banks of the Marvo Creek adjoining Petitioners community. Just as in the first incident, 2022 EPA again dispatched a team of technicians to Jikandor community and launched an investigation,
“The Team observed that Bea Mountain had this time around discharged/released a huge quantity of copper sulfate into the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF), that the copper sulfate solution was seen entering into the receiving environment of the Jikandor, and that the Gabion Basket installed at the TSF was partially damaged. Based on these findings, the Team made the following conclusions: and that the release of copper sulfate directly into the Tailings Storage Facility is a violation of Section 5.2e of the BMMC TSF-III permit which requires the company to seek approval from EPA if there is a need for chemical treatment of tailings within the facility. In the instant case, the Team noted that no such approval was given by EPA, and therefore Bea Mountain was in violation.
“That notwithstanding the two incidents of contamination and the clear and unequivocal findings and recommendation of the Investigation Team, Bea Mountain has failed to address the critical recommendations to support the voluntary resettlement of the village of Jekandor as potential relief to the community considering than proximity to the current Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) and other facets of the company’s Operation. Secondly, Bea Mountain has stopped the supply of water to the people of Jikandor, which we consider coward and callous disregard of the dignity of the people of Jikardor as human beings.
“Following the first incident in May 2022, through the second in February 2023, and up to date, the people of Jikandor have abandoned the use of the Marvoe creek and Water Wells in the town of Jikando and within the immediate vicinity of the village, not only as per the advice of EPA, but out of fear of the consequences of the contamination on their lives and the lives of their children over a protracted period.
“The Marnoe River which has been their source of drinking water is practically dead, dirty, and brownish in color with very few aquatic species and fauna therein. As a consequence, the people of Jikandoh are constrained to rely on rainwater which they collect in buckets when it rains, and or walk considerable distances away from the town to collect water from a nearby swamp. Lest we forget, the rains will seize and the nearby creeks and swamps will dry up as soon as the raining season ends within the next two months, an eventuality that will exacerbate the lack of access to safe drinking water by the people of Jikandor”, he said..
He said the people of Jikandor have done everything possible to have this matter resolved amicably and that with faith in the rights guaranteed them under the Constitution of Liberia, and the Rule of law, the people of Jikandor have written several letters to the relevant authorities of the Government of Liberia including the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Hon. F. Musa Dean; the President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Hon. Daniel Chie; the Minister of Mines and Energy, Hon. Gezzler Murray, the Director of the National Bureau of Concessions, and the Senators and Representatives of Grand cape Mount County, including Cllr. H. Varney Sherman who is seeking for re-election, but to no avail.
“The Management of BEA Mountain, relying on its financial might and political support which the management of the Company boasts of publically, have demonstrated a callous disregard of the injuries they have inflicted upon the people of Jikandor, and have taken recourse to colonial tactics of “divide and rule” by giving jobs to some few residents and forging direct meetings with some of the residents of Jikandoh, slandering the integrity and reputation of the lawyer for Jikandor, and claiming that Bea Mountain is not afraid of the Government or anyone in this Country and that no one can force the Company to do anything that they do not want to do, all in an effort to intimidate and coerce the people of Jikandor in abandoning their demands on the Company.
“Liberia is a member of the United Nations, a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Social Rights. The United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, explicitly recognized the right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon all member States in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all its citizens and residents. Bea Mountain, as a licensee of the Government of Liberia, assumes the duty and responsibility to ensure that the right to clean drinking water and sanitation in their areas of operation and parts adjacent are not violated directly or indirectly by their mining operations”, he said.
He said the people of Jikandor having being tired with Bea Mountain and the EPA, have now resolved to take recourse to the law as made and provided beginning with seeking judicial enforcement of the recommendations of the EPA Investigation Team in which Bea Mountain was requested to support the voluntary resettlement of the village of Jekandor as potential relief to the community considering than proximity to the current Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) and other facets of the company’s Operation.
“Secondly, the people of Jikandor, will seek judicial enforcement of the implementation of the recommendations advanced to the Management of EPA which include for EPA to ensure the conduct of a full-scale assessment of the Tailings Storage Facility at Bea Mountain operations and its compliance with its design, environmental management plan and permit, to expedite the relocation of the people of Jikandor, as a Pollution affected Community that EPA ensures that Bea Mountain develops a “Restoration Plan” through a third-party EPA-certified consultancy firm and approved by EPA and ensure the conduct of full-scale assessment to determine the magnitude of the pollution and develop a road map for restoration at the expense of BMMC;
“Thirdly, the people of Jikandor will take recourse to the Courts by way of Action of Damages for the injuries that Bea Mountain has visited upon them as a people and Community growing from the contamination of their waters.
Sannoh maintained that the people are aware Bea Mountain Mining Company and New Liberty Gold are the key assets in Avesoro Resources, Inc., and that both companies are under one investment structure managed by Avesoro Resources and engaged in the mining and production of Gold in Liberia, hence silence on the matter of Jikandor by Avesoro Resources is not an effective strategy because under our law practice Bea Mountain, New Liberty Gold and Avesoro Resources are one and the same and will be held jointly responsible for the injuries arising from their conduct either singularly or collectively. Avesoro must disregard the arrogance of Bea Mountain and seek ways to have the injuries inflicted upon the people resolved as quickly as possible.