Does there really have to be a trade-off on Goat Islands? A trade-off, that is, between the environment and development – an idea that has often characterized the conversation on the proposed transshipment port on Goat Islands, in the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA). In this particular case, does it have to be one or the other? And are there alternative sites to Goat Islands that could be considered?
Aaron Bruner, Senior Economist at the Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF), asked these questions in Kingston last Tuesday. Mr. Bruner prepared a report on the proposed/threatened port for the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), the non-governmental organization that works in the PBPA and manages the fish sanctuaries there. Many interested people attended last week’s presentation – but no representatives of the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) or China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), who were invited. (Apologies – I stand corrected; I believe PAJ officials came in during the last minute of the event – literally). C-CAM is hoping to meet with the PAJ very soon for further discussions.
So what did the study conclude? Using a Cost-Effectiveness Analysis framework, Mr. Bruner pointed to at least one possible alternative site to Goat Islands: Macarry Bay in Clarendon (a little-known area to the west, just outside the PBPA) that he estimates would cost an estimated US$200 million less to build. This would constitute a more than 10 per cent saving on the estimated total investment by CHEC – and at far less environmental cost. So we could “have our cake (or goat, if you prefer) and eat it too,” as Mr. Bruner humorously suggested. Most of these savings could come from the much lower cost of excavation and reclamation at Macarry Bay. Goat Islands is hard rock (limestone) and a huge amount of work would be required. The two islands would have to be dynamited, flattened and pushed into the sea. Macarry Bay is sand, which is much easier for dredging and land reclamation.
Let us keep in mind that this study primarily examined construction costs – that is, the building of breakwaters, dredging, excavation and reclamation work. It assessed the wave environment – of great importance on the south coast, in light of storms and trade winds as well as climate change – and looked at the possible, workable layouts of ports at the locations discussed (Macarry Bay and a combination of Kingston Harbour and Bowden in St. Thomas). The diagrams are all in the report, so you can take a look at the pdf document – see link below. The study is not comprehensive, but does provide an opportunity for others to explore further – for example, to do costings on road access, transportation and so on. On that topic, engineers say roads would not be a significant initial cost; and bear in mind that Macarry Bay is quite close to the large, currently unused Vernamfield Aerodrome. In March this year, Industry Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton, who is responsible for the logistics hub, strongly emphasized that the development of Vernamfield was a “critical component” of the hub.
The second possibility, Mr. Bruner suggested, is to look at a combination of the Kingston Harbour (for the port) and Bowden Harbour (in St. Thomas) for the industrial complex that would accompany it. This would not require a high volume of dredging, although a great deal depends on the type of soil in Kingston. St. Thomas, a very underdeveloped parish, might certainly hope to benefit from such an arrangement, however. The coast road eastward certainly needs a revamp and a good road would assist farmers and other economic activity. There are also already several quarries to the east. This site “has potential,” Mr. Bruner suggested.
Mr. Bruner’s study is entitled: “Economic comparison of alternatives to building a port on Goat Islands: Does Jamaica need to sacrifice a world class conservation site in order to build a world class port?” You can read full details at your leisure online at: CSF_Jamaica_ series_technical_oct2014_web.pdf Funding was from the Critical Ecosytem Partnership Fund (which is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank). Much of the analytical work was carried out by Niras Fraenkel Ltd., a leading name in port and marine engineering consultancy worldwide, which has worked with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and on the Panama Canal in the past.
The report also assesses the value of damage to ecosystems in the PBPA. Because yes – they do have a considerable, and growing dollar value, estimated in a 2008 study to be between US$75 – 95 million, mostly in the areas of fisheries, tourism, carbon sequestration and waste treatment. The total value of wetland ecosystem services in Goat Islands would be five or six times the likely loss for Macarry Bay or Kingston/Bowden. And there is no comparison in the loss of biodiversity.
Aaron Bruner stressed at his presentation that he was not insisting the port be built elsewhere; C-CAM’s Ingrid Parchment also noted that they are not “looking to find” another site. There is “no perfect site,” they added. But the point is: The Jamaican Government should seriously consider the alternatives. “We find strong evidence to justify serious consideration of at least one or possibly both sites,” the report concludes.
“It’s not us paying for it, it’s CHEC. It’s an investment!” This is a common refrain. But is this really the case? Will the Jamaican Government (read “people”) have to pay, and if so how – and how much? Let’s just think about this. The Government is responsible for making decisions in the best interests of present and future generations, right?
So yes, CHEC will bear the cost of construction. We (and by “we” I mean the Government and people of Jamaica) will bear the cost of negative social and environmental impacts if the port is placed in an area resulting in the loss of ecosystems and all the services they provide – economic, social and environmental.
Those costs could be much heavier than we can possibly imagine. And if Goat Islands can be destroyed…Where next?
A few things to always keep in mind:
- The transshipment port is not the same thing as the Jamaican Government’s planned logistics hub.
- The land belongs to the people of Jamaica; Goat Islands is owned by the Urban Development Corporation, which keeps it in trust for the Jamaican people. (Will Jamaicans still have access to the area after the port is built? What laws will apply?
- CHEC is not a private company, nor is its parent company, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). It is a state-owned Chinese company.
- Some of those at the meeting suggested “The Chinese is seeking to build an enclave.” True, or not?
- Climate change. Let us bear in mind the sea level rise already happening on our south coast; the possible implications of the building of a coal-powered plant for our general health, air quality – and carbon emissions, which Jamaica has committed to reducing.
- There are so many details we still don’t know. The project remains largely shrouded in secrecy, and the Government has effectively blocked the Jamaica Environment Trust’s legal efforts to obtain more information under the Access to Information Act – at least until next June, when the judicial hearing continues. So, transparency on the part of the Jamaican Government remains a huge issue.
- This is not a “done deal.” Some would like us all to believe that, and to give up. But as they say, it’s not over until the fat lady sings (my apologies for this not politically correct expression).
For a wealth of up-to-date information, visit the savegoatislands.org website, and the pages of C-CAM and the Jamaica Environment Trust (and also their Facebook pages). And here is a marvelous slideshow/film of the PBPA – a five-minute tour that will give you a true vision of its beauty and value! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwiIPmbdWc0&feature=share