|Posted by Diana McCaulay on January 23, 2014 at 8:00 AM|
Saturday, January 18th, 2014
My husband and I stop at Hope Gardens on our way to the Blue Mountains. I’ve heard the Chinese garden has been demarcated and I want to see the area. I’m struck by the many red and white signs at Hope’s various entrances, warning us to not to do this or that, and the complicated system of getting you to pay for parking. We go to the restaurant and across the road is the black marker fence of the new garden – it is HUGE, taking in the entire area of the pond, the pond with the island in the shape of Jamaica. I ask a woman what she thinks about it. “Bare foolishness!” she says. “You see like today? A Saturday?” she asks. “You would see all over there full of people sitting on blankets. Now nobody can go there. They say you will have to pay to go in. They say soon walk foot people will have to pay to get into Hope Gardens.” She stops for a bit. “But it’s our own fault,” she says.
I think back to the application of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) to the Nature Preservation Foundation, the NGO set up to manage Hope Gardens. We proposed renovating one of the old ruins for our offices, we would raise the funding, and we would conduct educational programmes for Jamaican children in Hope Gardens. All we needed was a lease of sufficient length to make the fund raising feasible. After two years of constantly moving goal posts and the dawning conviction that we were not being dealt with in good faith, we withdrew our application. I imagine the Chinese had a far different experience.
Sunday, January 19th, 2014
My cell phone starts to ring – people from the western end of the island reporting a large sand quarrying operation west of Duncans Bay beach. I get asked all the usual questions – is this legal, how could the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) allow it, who is doing it, where is the sand going – and the usual exhortation – do something, Diana. I call Peter Knight, NEPA’s CEO, who does take my calls, at least up to now. He’s vague, he’ll investigate, he thinks there was a permit for a small operation. He’s acting on it. E-mails start arriving. There’s a line of trucks and they are leaving every 15 minutes, full of sand. I ask for photographs.
Monday, January 20th, 2014
I go to a meeting at NEPA as an observer (not to mash up the meeting, Mr Knight instructs me!) to discuss the environmental remediation of the damage done to the Palisadoes strip during the building of the roadworks and seawalls. The National Works Agency has been in breach of their environmental permit for an unspecified length of time – a situation they do not acknowledge until I make an issue of it, which no doubt constitutes “mashing up the meeting” but I am not evicted. They plan to dredge sand from offshore to cover some of the dunes, the sand they have stockpiled from the works is not enough, and then they will plant mangroves in various sites on the harbor side, and dune vegetation on the sea side. The figures are run through rapidly - $50 million for this consultant, $20 million for another – the total price tag is somewhere between J$200 million and J$350 million. Oh, and they plan to repair the groynes as well.
I conclude that, collectively, we really are mad. We BORROWED US$85 million to do a project of a totally unnecessary scale, it would have cost far less to just fix the groynes, which was all that was needed for most of the length of the Palisadoes, we seriously damaged a protected area, and now Jamaican taxpayers are going to be called upon to pay for this damage! There is no guarantee that the remediation will work – it will likely require the weather to cooperate by not sending any storms before the plants have had a chance to grow and stabilize the dunes. Near the end of the meeting, it is noted that there is going to be a lot of dredging shortly – the expansion of the Kingston Container Terminal and the extension of the runway at Norman Manley International Airport – perhaps we could use that dredged material for the dunes, and then spread the stockpiled amount on top. I wonder, but do not say, what substances lurk in the silt and sand at the bottom of Kingston Harbour, now to be placed on land. I wonder if anyone will test the dredged sand.
Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
The photos of the Trelawny sand quarrying operation arrive. They are taken at quite long range from the sea. I count ten trucks lined up on the beach. It’s healthy turtle nesting habitat and I feel exhausted at the thought of making that argument. Some reports say this has been going on for more than a month, others report a week. A few people followed the trucks but not to any destination. No one took any photos of license plates. Trucks are seen parked near to the old Ritz Carlton and Palmyra. Yup, I think. If you allow hotels where there is little beach, they will need to quarry sand until thy kingdom come. I wonder if whoever is receiving the sand has an environmental permit. I call John Junor, who I regard as the best environmental minister we ever had, as a lot of our legislation was passed on his watch, now he’s the Chairman of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA). He too takes my calls. He has heard about the sand quarrying situation, he’s investigating and will get back to me. Danielle Andrade, JET’s attorney calls the Mines and Geology Division and learns that the “developer” has a permit from them. It does not seem, however, that the developer has the permits he needs under the NRCA Act.
In the afternoon, while a private sector led symposium on the proposed logistics hub for Jamaica is underway, I go to look at some aerial footage we have obtained of the Portland Bight Protected Area, vicinity of Goat Islands. The weather has been unpredictable for many weeks and several trips to get this footage had to be postponed. Now, here is the Portland Bight Protected Area – the sea, the breaking waves, the small islands, the reefs, the two Goat Islands, looking like one island, the rivers and creeks, the mangroves, the fishers in their boats. Will anyone look at these images and think – no way can they put a port there? I didn’t go to the logistics hub symposium – we at JET have no objection to the logistics hub, although I do wonder about our ability to execute anything of such magnitude. The Government of Jamaica has effectively confused everyone about the logistics hub and the Goat Islands port, conflating them in the minds of nearly everyone. They are not the same thing.
In the evening, I do a radio interview on Nationwide News Network with Cliff Hughes re the sand quarrying operation. By then we know NEPA has issued a warning notice on the quarrying, with a requirement to cease the works – but an unknown number of trucks have already removed sand. I try to explain to Cliff that Jamaica has a real problem with beach erosion, and that if we disrupt the natural processes that create beaches by removing sand from the ecosystem, that problem is only going to get worse.
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
I wake up too early. Wonder if it is too dangerous to go outside to get the newspapers in the dark – a friend has just been held up at home. Decide to risk it, get the newspapers, read about another police killing, this time of Robert “Nakia” Jackson while in his cook shop. It’s hard to talk about land and sea, plants and animals, when people are being murdered, every day. And then I see it in the Jamaica Observer – Professor Gordon Shirley, the new Chairman of the Port Authority, confirming that the Goat Islands port will go ahead. He has apparently forgotten (or the reporter does not mention) the plan outlined by his Minister back in September 2013 – Cabinet decision by the end of January, Memorandum of Agreement with the Chinese investors by the end of April, environmental impact assessments thereafter. Not even the GOJs own commitments matter to them.
And then, also in the Observer, I see the defensive and indefensible argument from Peter Knight of NEPA – the sand quarrying operator had a permit from Mines and Geology. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/NEPA-says-Duncans-Bay-sand-mining-operation-legal-_15840304
The project was discussed at the Quarries Committee, on which NEPA sits, and no objection was offered by the NEPA representative. I wonder if he realizes how idiotic that is – that NEPA does not insist that the permits required under the law it administers be obtained – that an environmental regulator offers no objection to the quarrying of beach sand, does no monitoring of it – and then, when there is public outcry, issues a warning notice and stops the work.
And so I wonder, what now. It’s a personal question, asked of myself. What will I do today? Issue another press release? To what end? It’s clear what the fate of all our protected areas will be – once someone wants them for some kind of economic activity, any kind of economic activity, no matter how ill conceived, how short term, they will fall. It’s clear that whatever the reasons – corruption, incompetence, political interference, gross ignorance – our environmental institutions have no intention of protecting the environment. Should I call for the closure of NEPA? That agency costs us a fair amount – about J$600 million a year, depending on the year – if it is not going to protect the environment, what’s the point? Should I call for an end to international donor funding for the environment – donor funding that goes into propping up organizations like NEPA, only to see the funding wasted, as is about to occur in Portland Bight.
Perhaps I should appeal directly to the Chinese themselves. Our government does not care, good sirs, please, spare our protected areas. Please.
I think about root causes, driving to work, the same driving force is behind the wall going up in Hope Gardens and the sacrifice of Goat Islands. Politics. Elections. Connections. Scarce benefits. An economic system that values nature at zero.
I come back to the words with which I started writing this piece. What will it take, for us to say, no more? What crime against our people and our land will be too great to bear?