A tweet dropped into my timeline earlier this week from Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Nothing unusual about that as he, like other government ministers, is a regular tweeter. This one gave me pause, however:
Jamaica is open for business. The time is now. I want to thank the Amaterra Group for investing in Jamaica. The company will build an 8,000 room hotel in Stewart Castle, Trelawny.
Another tweet noted: The Government is focused on making the process of approval and permitting easier for investors to move from thought to realization very quickly. There are great things lined up for Jamaica and we invite all investors to participate.
Very quickly? What about the required approvals, Environmental Impact Assessments and so on? Yes, we all hate “red tape” but issuing permits in a great hurry…
But then, we ARE in a great hurry for a (hashtag) “New Jamaica”… The concerns of environmental scientists, climate change scientists and so on are politely listened to; consultations with the public and those impacted are held at short notice and without much advertisement; then the development goes ahead anyway, as planned. Boxes checked!
Amaterra means roughly “Love the Earth.” A local, well-connected businessman, Keith Russell is partnering in this huge project (850 acres) with Rexton Capital Partners Limited and Tourism and Leisure Development International.
I hope they all love the Earth.
However, as usual, it’s the dollars that win the day. Here is a press release from the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) – an open letter to the Prime Minister, copied to the relevant Government agencies.
Please find attached and below a letter from the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) to Jamaica’s Prime Minister, The Most Hon. Andrew Holness, outlining our concerns regarding the recently announced Amaterra Development in Trelawny. The letter was sent electronically on April 16, 2019, and in hard copy today, April 17.
April 16, 2019
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, O.N., M.P.,
Prime Minister of Jamaica,
1 Devon Rd,
Dear Prime Minister,
Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) notes several articles in The Gleaner and Jamaica Observer between April 11 and 14, 2019, reporting on the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of 8,000 hotel rooms, and several other resort facilities, by the Amaterra Group in Stewart Castle, Trelawny, which took place on Friday, April 12.
The Amaterra ground-breaking raises several concerns for JET, not least of which being that the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Resort and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the associated Golf Course were conducted over a decade ago in December 2005 and December 2007 respectively. SEA’s are only required for large projects which are likely to have significant impacts on the environment. Further checks with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) by JET have revealed that an environmental permit and planning permission has already been granted to Amaterra Jamaica Limited for between 1,000 and 2,000 hotel rooms at a meeting of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) on January 15, 2019. It is unclear whether an Amaterra golf course is still being proposed.
To date, there has been no indication from NEPA or the NRCA that a new or updated SEA has been requested or will be required for the Amaterra development.
The standard operating practice is that the lifespan of an SEA or EIA is five (5) years. Many key aspects of the environment have changed since the Amaterra Resort SEA was conducted. For example, in 2005 the following major developments, which are all within a 10-mile radius of the site, were either still under construction or had not yet begun:
– North Coast Highway (Segment Two) opened in March 2007
– Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium opened in 2007
– Coral Springs Village Housing Development Phases 1 – 4 (construction commenced in 2014)
– Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier opened in 2011; expansion in 2017
– Excellence Oyster Bay Hotel opened in October 2018
Each of the above developments could have had variable impacts on the water quality, coastal dynamics, air quality, biological diversity and drainage of the area surrounding the proposed Amaterra site since their completion. The cumulative impact of these recent major developments to the natural and socioeconomic landscape of the Trelawny coast over the past decade cannot be ignored when considering yet another massive development in the area.
There have also been significant advances in scientists’ understanding of the impacts of Climate Change on Caribbean ecosystems over the past decade, which would not have been fully considered in an SEA done in 2005. JET’s preliminary review of the 2005 Amarterra SEA has revealed that it makes almost no reference to the potential impacts of Climate Change. Additionally, the Amarterra SEA also makes no mention of the resort’s potential impact on the Coral Spring Mountain Protected Area which is located adjacent to the proposed site.
The proposed Amaterra site is located within the North Coast Forest which stretches from the northern portion of Cockpit Country all the way to the coast. Jamaica’s National Ecological Gap Assessment Report (May 2009) identified the North Coast Forest as a priority area for conservation because of its high-quality dry limestone forest and the significant contributions it makes to maintaining the integrity of freshwater and marine resources.
The Amaterra ground-breaking is yet another example of what is becoming a worrying trend in the development approval process in Jamaica. As with the Port Royal Cruise Ship Terminal development in the Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area, the Amaterra Resort has been announced with much fanfare and celebration, without rigorous assessment of its potential impact on the environment and surrounding communities.
SEAs, EIAs and public consultations are tools to guide NEPA’s decision-making on proposed developments and should be carried out before any permits or permissions are given, not the other way around.
We also note with disappointment your comments made at the Amaterra ground-breaking ceremony as reported by the Sunday Gleaner on April 14:
“We will reach 50,000 rooms in the next decade or less, and after that, we will have to consider very carefully the balance between the number of rooms and the environment…”
Prime Minister Holness, this should not be the approach taken by the Government of Jamaica to tourism development. The Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development (2002) states one of the five main objectives for the tourism industry in Jamaica is environmental sustainability. Large scale tourism developments like a cruise ship terminal and an 8,000-room hotel should only be pursued after an in-depth assessment of potential impacts has been completed, using the most rigorous and up-to-date scientific methods and data, and after providing ample opportunity for Jamaicans to provide feedback on the plans.
We cannot wait until the damage has already been done by tourism mega-developments to consider our natural environment.
JET requests that the permits issued to Amaterra Jamaica Limited be suspended until an updated environmental impact study, subjected to the usual public consultation processes, has been undertaken for the proposed development.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
JAMAICA ENVIRONMENT TRUST
The Hon. Daryl Vaz, MP., Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation with responsibility for Land, Environment, Climate Change and Investments
The Hon. Edmund Bartlett, CD, MP., Minister of Tourism
Danville Walker, Chairman, Natural Resources Conservation Authority
Peter Knight, CEO, National Environment and Planning Agency
Diana McCaulay, Board Chair, Jamaica Environment Trust