Negril Beach and the Breakwater Issue: Some Updates


I recently wrote about the concerns of hoteliers in the tourist resort of Negril over the proposed construction of two offshore breakwaters. Since I received quite a response to my blog post from you, dear readers, I thought I would share with you a few additional articles that have appeared in the past few days. I hope you will find these informative and helpful.

Firstly, here’s an article by Mary Veira of Couples Resorts, which appeared in the Sunday Gleaner of May 11. The original may be found at http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140511/focus/focus4.html

Beyond the Negril Beach Spin

In 2005, Dr Wykeham McNeill, acting as the member of parliament for Western Westmoreland, established a Beach Restoration Committee. This committee comprised members of the Negril community, stakeholders and government agencies and was asked to commission a study to address the problem of beach erosion in Negril.

Proposals were sought from the environmental professional community. One of the submissions the committee received was from CEAC Solutions Company Limited, whose managing director is Mr Christopher Burgess. This submission was turned down as it was based purely on hard structures. In the end, the contract to do the study was awarded to Smith Warner International.

The findings of the Smith Warner study, presented to the community in a meeting held in September 2007, were:

There was beach erosion estimated at between one and two metres per year for the last 30 years. This erosion was caused by the removal of seagrass, storms and rising sea levels.

Coral-reef health and fish population had declined, partly as a result of poor water-quality draining from the morass. This poor water quality was caused by agricultural run-off and inadequate sewage treatment. The problem was exacerbated by the removal of mangroves for development.

Sand production is low and this is partially because of the loss of seagrass.

Based on the above findings, Smith Warner concluded that beach erosion in Negril would continue.

The solutions offered by Smith Warner to combat this erosion were:

Sand nourishment: This was the cheapest solution, estimated at US$4 million-US$7 million. It would add up to 30 metres of beach along the length of Long Bay and Bloody Bay and the lifespan would be 20 years.

Nearshore breakwaters: The cost of this was estimated to be US$20 million for 12 nearshore breakwaters, avoiding the seagrass beds.

Reef extension: This was estimated to cost US$30 million-US$40 million and was made up of reef balls (or similar, e.g., biorock) and a breakwater. This would also provide a habitat for fish.

A combined solution: This was estimated to cost US$20 million-US$25 million and would include reef extension in the north, breakwaters in the south, and reef balls. Again, the seagrass beds would be avoided.

The final recommendation from Smith Warner, after analysing all the solutions, was:

Beach nourishment was the preferred option, and possibly the combined solution, but the design would have to be refined and an environmental impact assessment done.

The water-quality issues from the morass would have to be addressed. After this report was done and presented, at a cost of US$100,000, the solutions, until recently, have not been implemented.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has now had CEAC Solutions design two large rubble mound breakwaters for Negril. This differs from what was in the Smith Warner report in the following ways:

They are in different locations of the beach.

They are of a different size from what was in the Smith Warner study.

The Smith Warner breakwaters were below the mean tide level, unlike the ones designed by CEAC Solutions, which are emergent and partially emergent.

NEPA and CEAC Solutions have completely ignored the attention that must be paid to restoring ecosystem functions in Negril, including restoration of the morass, mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs and improvements in water quality. In fact, Mr Burgess of CEAC said, “The connection between the drying morass and shoreline proposed in the Saturday article is far-fetched.” But then, in his article, Mr Burgess omitted something else of importance – that his company actually designed these breakwaters.

Also of concern to stakeholders is the fact that the Environmental Engineer of National Works Agency, Dr Mark Richards, admits, “Such a major project of sea defence has really never been done.”

The stakeholders in Negril have several issues regarding the methods used by NEPA for communicating with them, and this issue has been brought to their attention on many occasions, to no avail.

Meetings to discuss long- and short-term plans for Negril are had (usually in Kingston); however, stakeholders are not included in these formative discussions.

The system used for selecting persons to be invited to their meetings is not comprehensive and many people are left out.

Meetings are held AFTER decisions have already been taken and are not consultations at all, but simply information-sharing sessions.

We have so far been unable to get minutes of these meetings.

We are aware that some work has been done in Negril by NEPA. But what are the results of these projects? Shorelock was tested – what are the results? Did the replanted seagrass survive? We are aware that with regard to the first attempt at seagrass replanting, 85 per cent of the transplants died. We believe there was a second attempt, but we do not know the result.

The other concern to stakeholders is naturally the major disruption to business that this project will create. It calls for 24 truckloads of boulders coming into the resort town each day for nine months, bringing a total of 53,280 cubic metres of armour stone – that is 1,881,565 cubic feet. The largest boulders will be between eight and 13 tons each (one ton is 2,240 pounds), and they will require 597,524 cubic feet of this material, while there will be some slightly smaller boulders of five to nine tons each (708,765 cubic feet required).

The traffic congestion that this will create in a small town is unthinkable. In the 1990s when the sewerage project was taking place, many places on the West End had to close and some have never recovered from that blow. All businesses in Negril will feel the effects of this. Workers will be late, guests will have delays getting to their hotels, daily deliveries will be affected, collection of garbage will be difficult, schools will be disturbed – the list goes on.

Negril is primarily a resort town and there is a daily migration between West End and the beach. People staying on the cliffs go to the beach for the day, and vice versa. In the afternoons, there is a rush to watch the famous Negril sunset from the cliffs. Can stakeholders and employees afford this loss of income and can the Government afford the loss of revenue this project will generate?

Stakeholders have consistently called for a holistic approach to addressing beach erosion in Negril, but we feel this is being ignored.

We all want what is best for Negril, for tourism and for Jamaica. We want NEPA to include us and to have a say in the future plans for the place that we have invested in, work, live and love.

This is written on behalf of Negril stakeholders including Couples Resorts, Jane Issa, Caol Singh, the Williamses of Coyaba, the Grizzles of Charela Inn, among others. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mary@couples.com.

Secondly, a report by Kimone Thompson in today’s Jamaica Observer. Read the original here: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/RELOCATE-NEGRIL-HOTELS–SAYS-SCIENTIST_16647465

Relocate Negril hotels, says scientist

A local scientist who specialises in sedimentary geology believes the ultimate solution to the problems being faced by hoteliers and other stakeholders worried about erosion of the famous seven-mile stretch of white sand beach in Negril is to relocate their tourist activity.

Professor Simon Mitchell, who heads the Geography and Geology Department at the University of the West Indies, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that given the predictions for climate change and sea level rise, Government’s plan to introduce a breakwater system to slow the rate of erosion will only have limited results.

Breakwater systems are primarily wire-meshed stones designed to slow oncoming waves, which eat away at the shoreline.

“The final solution to this is not going to be very nice. In the end, we’re going to have to move it because sea level is going to rise. It’s a question of how long you’re going to look at maintaining a beach along there at all.

“If you think about where the road is, it’s not very far above the actual beach and predictions of sea level rise are there. Each time it rises in increments, it’s going to put more stress on the beach. So, if you’ve had three or four centimetres of sea level rise we’re going to have big problems,” he said.

Using the example of an undeveloped beach in St Thomas on which one of his grad students conducted a study, Professor Mitchell said that the shoreline had moved 10 metres over a five-year period which was evidence that all “beaches want to do is move inland”.

“But if you’ve got a series of hotels, they can’t move inland, so all that happens is that they eventually get washed away.”

If he were in Government’s shoes though, the professor said he would go with the 2007 Smith Warner report and implement both a breakwater system as well as beach nourishment, but as temporary measures. He cautioned, however, that there would first need to be an assessment of how much sand is being produced in the area.

The planned project has been the subject of much controversy since late last month when a group of hoteliers from Negril staged a press conference in Kingston to register their disapproval of the plans. They argued that the breakwaters would be unsightly and would turn tourists away. They claimed, too, that the boulders which would make up the breakwater system would not be harnessed to the seafloor and would pose a threat to their properties in the event of storm surges or hurricanes.

They appear to favour beach nourishment, the name given to the process of transporting sand from elsewhere to the eroding beach. But Mitchell argued that the measure is expensive and ineffective because the sand brought in will also be subject to erosion and perhaps at a faster rate, particularly if it is done in the absence of a breakwater system.

Some sources go as far as saying nourished beaches can be eroded in the space of two years.

Countering the hoteliers’ claims, Chief Executive Officer of the National Environment and Planning Agency Peter Knight said the breakwaters would be submerged about 1.5 kilometres from the shore. He said, too, that beach nourishment would be part of the “medium-to-long-term” mitigation mix.

“The installation of the breakwaters is of critical importance to the protection of the Negril community. (They) will reduce wave action, protect the coastline and allow for beach accretion. We are also confident that they will resuscitate activities in the community and enhance the tourism product,” he said in an opinion piece which was published in both newspapers last week.

But Mitchell insists that the measures can only be temporary and are hinged on how much sand is being produced on the beach in question.

“The breakwater would be there to try to prevent the movement of the sand; to trytrap sand. Obviously, what happens with sand is it gradually gets broken down over time, so you can’t trap sand if no new sand is being produced. In that scenario, you could actually feed the beach with additional sand so I think the reality is what is the sand budget on that beach. Is enough sand being produced and if not how are you going to get around working with that? If sand is not being produced you’ve got a problem.

“It is a temporary measure and if your problem is that there’s not enough sand being produced to begin with, then all you’re doing is way-laying the problem,” Mitchell argued.

Speaking to beach nourishment itself, Mitchell said it was a feasible option “if you’ve got enough money to keep throwing at it”.

“If you go and nourish the beach and you get a hurricane this year, then the storm is going to move it all offshore and it doesn’t come back. If we don’t get a hurricane or tidal waves associated with a system for five years, then

maybe that’s a good solution, but if we get it this year and you spend US$5 million or US$10 million nourishing a beach that would just be the end of it and you’d have to go back and do it again,”he told the Observer.

According to Knight, the Negril shoreline has eroded some 62 metres over the last 45 years. This has been attributed to natural wind and wave action, the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and other storms, as well as to man’s activities, including unplanned developments, removal of vegetation such as seagrass beds,and marine pollution.

Addressing the public spat between NEPA and the hoteliers, chairman of the Negril area Environment Protection Trust Kenrick

Davis told the Observer yesterday that there was no need for a fight.

“I think we’re going about things the incorrect way. My take on it is that we should be sitting down with NEPA and talking to them about what our grouses are.

“I think NEPA is trying to help. I don’t think they are going out there putting in a breakwater because they want to put in a breakwater or because they want to spend some money. …If stakeholders are unhappy with what NEPA is doing, I think we need to sit down in a room and talk about it and see how it can be modified to suit a Negril situation,” Davis said.

“I’m not one for fighting if there isn’t a battle. What we need in Negril is to have our beach return to what it used to be say 30 years ago,” he added.

Finally, Opposition Spokesman on the Environment Dr. Andrew Wheatley issued a statement on the matter, as follows:

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 12, 2014

NEGRIL ON THE VERGE OF A MAJOR CRISIS – SAYS WHEATLEY
– Calls on the Minister to Wake Up and Intervene!
_____________________________________________________________________________

Opposition Spokesperson for the Environment, Dr. Andrew Wheatley, today called on the Minister of Environment, the Honourable Robert Pickersgill to wake up and immediately address mounting concerns with plans to construct a controversial breakwater system off the famous Negril coastline. Dr. Wheatley warned that if the Minister does not urgently intervene, Jamaica will face the national and international consequences of a damaging economic and environmental decision.

Dr. Wheatley said “ While the Opposition appreciates the need to urgently preserve and rehabilitate the Negril coastline, we are seriously concerned about the way in which the initiative has been handled.”

Dr. Wheatley urged Minister Pickersgill to address several major concerns and specifically, to quickly and comprehensively explore Beach Nourishment as an alternative to the breakwater system. This, he said, is a more effective way to handle beach erosion, as it is a long term solution (20 + years), less expensive and environmentally friendly. He said it was also important to note that Negril stakeholders have indicated a strong interest in helping to fund a comprehensive beach nourishment program which has seen success in Cuba and many other countries.

Dr. Wheatley’s recommendations have come out of (i) consultations with a broad group of Negril stakeholders over the weekend (ii) a review of the position by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) matter, and (iii) an analysis of worldwide trends for coastline protection initiatives.

Among the further concerns raised by Dr. Wheatley are:

1.The absence of an Economic Impact study into the effects of pursuing the highly technical and disruptive project that NEPA says will run for nine months. Dr. Wheatley noted that the community fears a major downturn in its crucial tourism product and likely job losses. This he said will have a negative impact on the Jamaican economy including a reduction in needed tax revenue and cause pain to the many families and sectors that rely on Negril’s tourism industry.

2. The lack of genuine consultation by NEPA with Negril stakeholders including Hoteliers and what appears to be a gross lack of concern about the very serious issues raised by them in the public domain. The gross lack of consultation resulted in Negril stakeholders placing a full page advertisement in the press highlighting its objection to the planned project.

3. A heavily criticized, incomplete and possibly flawed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

4. The Breakwater system plan only addresses a one and a half mile span of the seven mile
coastline as opposed to a Beach Nourishment option that can address the entire span,

5. The likely damage that will be inflicted on Negril’s already fragile environment by the planned
breakwater system.

6. The unsightly look of the breakwater, that will permanently damage Negril’s famous coastline.

7. Extensive criticism of the breakwater system as an effective solution to beach erosion

Dr. Wheatley also called on the government to intensify and effectively coordinate its efforts to improve Negril’s environment on a whole. In closing, he stated “With Negril being a massive contributor to Jamaica’s economy especially in terms of tax revenue and employment, the government must see the national importance of ensuring that it does the right thing. Seven Miles of white sand should not be treated this way.”

For More Information, Contact:

Dr. Andrew Wheatley MP, Spokesperson for the Environment. Tel: 388-8439

 


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