The Negril Chamber of Commerce (NCC) issued a short press release today, expressing its shock at Monday night’s withdrawal of the Minister of Environment’s stop order for the removal of sand from a property in Negril to a new hotel development in St. Ann. Executive Director of Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay observed that Minister Pickersgill actually (perhaps inadvertently) spoke the truth when he said that the economic value of the hotel development “outweighs all other considerations” – a line in his written statement which has upset many Negril residents and environmentalists.
On CVM Television’s “Live at Seven” last night the Chair of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) John Junor described these words in the Minister’s statement as “unfortunate,” saying the value of the investment was not the only consideration (on the same program, environmental lawyer Danielle Andrade pointed out that by law, the impact on the economy should not be a factor). But sometimes, the truth will out, and Minister Pickersgill’s words rang true.
On “Live at Seven” Mr. Junor actually conceded (more than once) that there was “some administrative bungling” by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).The developers did not know this, but they should have applied to NEPA for a “variation order,” allowing them to take a larger quantity of sand, he said. What a confusion! I almost feel sorry for the poor developers, having to deal with such incompetence. Almost!
On the same program, the NRCA Chairman (who did most of the talking on the show) appeared to be trying to make some legal points regarding the Jamaican Constitution, which he said indicates that landowners such as Karisma should not be told how to dispose of their property, without compensation being paid. Mr. Junor is, after all, an attorney by profession. He also said the material removed is “not coastal sand,” but was taken further away from the high water mark. I am no scientist, but the huge piles of sand photographed look like lovely white Negril beach sand, to me.
Mr. Junor also asserted that carting away the sand would have “no long term impact on the environment.” How could such a large volume of sand being removed not have any impact – especially combined with all the other ills of the Negril environment, including the draining of the Great Morass, removal of seagrass by some hotels, etc.? But professional experts advised the hotel, said Mr. Junor, and did soil tests. So, no worries?
The point about climate change funding is a telling one. Ironically, the Government has been seeking funding for a controversial breakwater in Negril to combat beach erosion. I have written about this issue in previous blog posts. NCC spokeswoman Sophie Grizzle Roumel believes it’s “a bit unfair” to ask taxpayers in other countries to fund large adaptation projects in Jamaica, when the Government is doing its best to hasten the impact of climate change by removing sand from beaches that are already eroding (among other actions). Negril’s beach is reportedly eroding at close to ONE METER per year! And then, if a storm comes along in a few months’ time…
But I have to ask: What is the point of all these agencies supposedly protecting and regulating our environment? What is the point of environmental laws and the very recently produced Development Order for the area – which cost J$14 million to produce? What is the point of a Ministry of Environment that is not protecting the environment?
The Opposition Spokesman on the Environment Daryl Vaz, meanwhile, has not said much apart from that this matter shows the Government’s incompetence and “dysfunction.” He has welcomed the Environment Minister’s plan to develop a beach sand policy (which he says he suggested), adding that it is “an unfortunate situation.” Oh, how Jamaicans love to use this word “unfortunate,” meaning that it’s a really bad thing, but nothing can be done about it! Mr. Vaz hedged his bets though, by talking about the balance between environment and development that must be respected, “at all times.” We know, don’t we, that there is no balance, Mr. Vaz? It’s development that wins, at all times. Isn’t that the norm?
So, will Negril get its sand back – the sand that belongs to an overseas developer, according to the Minister? The answer would be: “No chance.”
As the host of “Live at Seven” Simon Crosskill said last night, “It does seem that Jamaica is indeed for sale.”
Here is the NCC’s press release:
January 26, 2016
The Negril Chamber of Commerce (NCC) is appalled that the Minister responsible for the environment, Hon. Robert Pickersgill, has rescinded the stop order for the removal of sand from Karisma’s hotel in Negril to their property in Llandovery, St. Ann.
We have heard arguments that the sand is not sand and also that it was owned by the hotel. The Quarries Control Act of 1984 defines quarry material as follows: “quarry material means rock, stone, sand (including sea sand), marl, gravel, clay, fill and limestone where such material does not contain any minerals in economically workable quantities.” Sea sand is defined as “sand on the seabed, shoreline or foreshore.” So the excavated sand and soil on Karisma’s construction site IS quarry material as defined by the Act and requires a quarry license to excavate or remove it, which is why one was issued.
The recently enacted Development Order clearly states the risk of removing the sand from Negril to another location and it has been ignored to by the Environment Minister. This risks the integrity and stability of the entire beach at Long Bay, affecting those who have invested in Negril for decades.
To say that “the value of the project to the Jamaican economy outweighs all other considerations” as Minister Pickersgill has done, is essentially to say that once there is money to be made, the environment does not matter. This is a short term and incredibly ill- informed position to take, particularly in the context of the Government of Jamaica seeking donor funding to protect the environment and mitigate against climate change.
The NCC questions the logic of having environmental laws and an environmental regulatory body; it will lobby all international agencies to cease funding climate change adaptation and protection of the environment projects until our government stops sacrificing the environment on the altar of expediency.