El Llano del Beal is a small town in Cartagena where just over 1,300 inhabitants live, a quiet place just 10 kilometers from the coast. In this small council, which can be crossed in just four minutes by car, all the neighbors share an uncomfortable tenant who has been living in the area for more than 20 years. It is the Jenny raft, a deposit of mining contaminants of more than 1,000 meters, located just five meters from some houses.
In 2001, the Regional Government accepted the free transfer of the land where this waste is found to proceed with the restoration of the area. According to Ecologistas en Acción, 5,452.12 million euros were invested in the decontamination of the raft, without success. After two decades, the Government of the Region of Murcia has declared the works and actions to seal the Jenny raft an emergency, one month after the Court of Instruction number 4 of Cartagena gave it 20 days to comply with this precautionary measure.
The closure of the area will cost 815,000 euros and will take about six months of work. The work will consist of an “active calcium carbonate filter system with reactive barriers” and a “system for channeling and collecting rainwater runoff and infiltration that cross the plot from the upstream catchment basin, this channeling will be equipped with of limestone gravel. In addition, the General Directorate of the Environment should have installed “immediately” a fence that delimited the perimeter of the pond and prevented the access of people and fauna to the interior of the deposit: “There has been no practical or preventive and urgent measure that the court raised to the regional Administration, specifically to the General Directorate of the Environment”, emphasizes Pedro Belmonte, a member of Ecologists in Action.
The president of the Platform for People Affected by Heavy Metals, Juan Ortuño, welcomes the imposition of these measures for the protection of the Mar Menor, but is concerned that airborne contamination will continue to reach the residents of the Llano del Beal: “The measures the only thing they are going to do is remove the acidity of the water, but the neighbors are still suffering from wind erosion,” explains Ortuño.
For Belmonte, the Jenny raft is one of the great environmental problems that the Sierra Minera and La Unión have. The ecologist explains that there are many sterile pools in the Sierra Minera de La Unión, in addition to Zinsa’s acid pools and radioactive phosphogypsum from the El Hondón land: “To fill this we have the unresolved problem of Portmán Bay and the contamination of nitrates and phosphates in the Mar Menor”, recalls Belmonte. “A sum of environmental problems that, in our opinion, have a public health edge,” he describes from Ecologistas en Acción. “These residues cause the contamination of soils, aquifers, produce the arrival of heavy metals to the Mar Menor and also the aerial dispersion of particles”, he assures.
During the failed decontamination of the Jenny raft in 2001 “there was no monitoring or control of the way in which the project was carried out, regardless of whether it was better or worse,” says Pedro García, director of the Association of Naturalists of the Southeast (ANSE ). For the ecologist, the Administration did not establish the measures to guarantee that the project was carried out properly: “Five million euros were wasted.”
“The Community accepted with all the consequences the poisoned gift of the Jenny raft. The problem with these things over time is that, regardless of criminal responsibility, no one assumes their political responsibility”, laments García, who recalls that the then councilor, Antonio Cerdá, denied the existence of contamination of the Mar Menor and attended the restoration of the Jenny raft, “accepting the donation of the land and executing the insane project that should not have been carried out with public money, at least not in such a sloppy way”.
The naturalist explains that the restoration of the areas affected by mining is the obligation of the owners of the exploitations. If the owners of the exploitations keep open the possibility of exploiting a resource, they are obliged to treat all those surfaces that still have the inventory of usable resources. “As surprising as it may seem, these abandoned areas still have the possibility of continuing with this activity, although in most cases it is no longer profitable. Therefore, they have the obligation to proceed with the restoration”, says García.
More waste in Los Blancos
On May 11, Seprona took samples on three plots located next to the Los Blancos hazardous waste dump, also located in the Llano del Beal. They did so after the petition made by the Ecologists in Action association to the Court of Instruction 4 of Cartagena in the open case against the Portmán Golf company for an alleged crime against the environment for the eight-year delay in the sealing of this old mining short .
The court ordered these proceedings in January to clarify whether the leak of mining waste denounced by Seprona in 2013. Los Blancos waste comes from the Jenny raft, from which a million tons of contaminated material were transferred to this site. Nine years later, it is investigated whether agricultural soils have been contaminated.