It’s not rocket science.
There is something that our government bureaucrats, so-called developers and overseas investors don’t seem to be getting. They don’t seem to understand what COP21 – last December’s Conference on Climate Change – was about. It was not just a junket, a nice trip to Paris. Despite all the evidence, they don’t seem to understand that sea levels are rising. Hellshire Beach, Font Hill and several other beaches along our south coast have disappeared, or are rapidly eroding. All around the island, the sea is encroaching on many buildings – especially those that were built far too close to the sea in the first place, due to bad planning or no planning at all. But hey – Jamaica needs “investors.” It needs “development.” That always comes first.
Now, for our tourism interests, “beach nourishment” has become the new buzzword: in other words, trying desperately to replace and build up a beach. Tourists want to stretch out on that lovely white sand. After all, our tourism product remains the “sun, sea and sand” concept that will soon be a thing of the past, anyway. Moreover (most importantly) Jamaicans also love their beaches – the few public ones that are left. They are places of relaxation for Jamaicans, too, if they are allowed to enjoy them. Beaches also provide livelihoods to Jamaicans. Fishermen need their beaches to draw up their boats, sell their fish and do their business. Beaches are special places.
I’m sure all the hotels and tourism interests still advertise the popular resort of Negril as “our famous seven mile beach.” For at least the past couple of years, residents and hoteliers have been fervently campaigning against a proposed breakwater (the “hard engineering structures” referred to below). The beach is disappearing, and one cannot walk the length of it now. Beach nourishment – i.e., building up the beach again – is one solution; or as some suggest, simply allowing nature to take its course. I have written about this in earlier blog posts, and it seems to be an issue that is now on hold. I need to get an update.
Meanwhile, the Negril Chamber of Commerce (NCC) has sounded the alarm about the removal of sand from the already-eroding beach. Jamaicans have reacted in disbelief; we are all acutely aware of our disappearing beaches. The NCC in a statement yesterday expressed “serious concern about NEPA’s and the commissioner of mines’ true role in the sand-mining operations, noting that it may very well have to escalate its concerns to other critical local and international stakeholders,” adding: “It was brought to our attention by multiple persons that sand is being mined in the Negril area, and [has been] moved by several trucks in the dead of night to a major hotel development in recent days. We are further told that the sand is stockpiled at the development in question for movement to another property on the north coast.” The statement noted: “We are alarmed about sand being mined in Negril, when the place suffers from beach erosion [and] the only solution the authorities seem to want is hard engineering structures that the majority of the community are against.” I haven’t seen the full statement, but that’s the gist of it as reported. The Jamaica Environment Trust has supported the Chamber’s stance (see their press release below).
According to residents, many truckloads of sand have been leaving Negril – for Llandovery in St. Ann, where a huge new development is about to start (4,800 rooms, nine hotels on 226 acres of what was once agricultural pasture land sloping down to the sea). The development by the Mexico-based Karisma Hotels and Resorts, to the tune of US$900 million, is expected to provide 8,000 direct jobs.
But wait… Last night, the police and officers from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) raided the place where the sand is being stockpiled, issued warning notices and a stop order, and confiscated equipment. The sand mining is illegal, they say. What is going on? Does the left hand not know what the right hand is doing? Karisma’s lawyers are irate, insisting that the company was very careful to obtain all the required permits before beginning to remove the sand – which, one lawyer noted, is “carbonate sand…not on any beach,” but under a layer of peat and clay (which also raises questions about the environment impact, of course).
Karisma insists it “played by the rules” and obtained all the required permits. It received a quarrying license from Commissioner of Mines Clinton Thompson, who did not seem to know much about the raid, when interviewed on radio. However, Mr. Thompson said the license would not have been granted without environmental approval, which is puzzling. Karisma says it also received approval from the National Works Agency and the Parish Council. Perhaps NEPA thought the quantity of sand removed was much more than permitted? One Chamber of Commerce member said she saw eight trucks lined up late on Tuesday night, collecting sand. What a situation! There are reportedly more NEPA officers on the ground nowadays to monitor the Negril environment. Were they fully aware of the situation?
There seems to be enormous confusion. Karisma is (understandably) getting antsy about this apparent impasse. How and why has this situation been mishandled? How can it be disentangled? We await further explanation. For now, I am baffled. And by the way, two huge casino resorts are also about to come on stream, in Rose Hall (Celebration Jamaica) and Trelawny (Harmony Cove).
All I know is that, at the end of the day, the environment is suffering and will continue to suffer. We will pay the price, sooner or later.
Here is JET’s press release, which notes that no environmental permit was issued:
Thursday, January 14th, 2016
JET SUPPORTS THE NEGRIL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE RE REMOVAL OF NEGRIL BEACH SAND
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) joins with the Negril Chamber of Commerce in expressing alarm at the removal of sand from the site of one of the hotels currently under expansion. JET understands that permission was given from the Mines and Geology Division to remove the sand, but no environmental permit was issued as is required by law.
The problems of beach erosion in Negril have been extremely well documented and it is unconscionable that any kind of permission should have been given to remove sand from the marine ecosystem in that area.
JET is especially concerned at the role of the Mines and Geology Division (MGD) in this matter, as the Commissioner of Mines should be fully aware of the requirements of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act. JET also questions why the environmental consultants did not advise the client of the need for an environmental permit, and why the NEPA enforcement team was not immediately aware of this illegal activity. The cease and desist order from NEPA has come too late and most of the sand has already been removed.
JET calls upon NEPA to require the return of the sand to Negril so that it can be used in much needed beach nourishment in Long Bay. We insist that government regulatory agencies like NEPA and MGD must be far more serious about ensuring that development does not harm Jamaica’s natural resources.