“In keeping with my recent advocacy on national and international platforms, I wish to focus on the fact that our natural heritage, including our biodiversity and ecosystems, are an important part of our material heritage. We readily understand the value of our natural heritage when we are complimented on the beauty of our island, our white sand beaches and welcoming warm weather. We come to an even greater understanding when we consider that our tourism product and the economic activity around it heavily depends on our environment and climate…
The Government is committed to implementing policies that mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and build economic and financial resilience…Think about all the trees cut down daily; consider how fulfilling it is to take shade or eat fruit from a tree, especially ones you planted.
I encourage all Jamaicans to plant a tree in your surroundings today, and add your voice and action to the millions of enlightened citizens around the world, mobilised individually in their locale, to protect and preserve their environment and build resilience to climate change.
This will be the greatest heritage we bequeath to our children. We must truly be a nation that takes responsibility, starting with each of us.
On this Heroes’ Day, become a hero for your environment. Let us be able to truly say we did our best to preserve it for generations to come.”
These were the words of our Prime Minister Andrew Holness in October 2019 in an article headlined, “Become a Hero for your Environment” – a speech for National Heroes Day. How eloquent, and how inspiring. This was also a call to citizens to “plant a tree” (I would like to have an update on that particular programme, which the Prime Minister outlined in a speech at the United Nations, no less). It was also an exhortation to the citizens – to take responsibility for the way they treat the environment.
By the way, it is interesting that we, the citizens are continually urged by our political leaders to take personal responsibility (as in the case of COVID-19); and that is all fine. However, I would suggest that our Government has certain responsibilities to protect both our health and our environment. Something more than nice words – but actually walking the talk, as I observed in December, 2019 on COP25.
A year after he delivered the above message, the Prime Minister appears to have approved the reversal of a decision taken on May 8 this year by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) to protect Puerto Bueno Mountain in St. Ann from mining and quarrying operations.
The mining company, Bengal Development Limited/Jamaica World LLC has successfully appealed the NRCA decision, which had been taken following strenuous and long-standing representations by a stakeholders’ group.
Puerto Bueno Mountain in St. Ann is a spectacular area of original coastal forest, ancient wave-cut terraces, fossil reefs, caves, and a dramatic landscape of limestone cliffs along Jamaica’s main north coast highway. The pristine dry limestone forest is home to a myriad of endemic species of wildlife, including the globally endangered Jamaican boa or ‘yellow snake’ and some newly-discovered plant species.
On November 5, 2020, the residents received the following email from the CEO of the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA):
Bengal Development Limited/Jamaica World LLC successfully appealed the earlier decision to deny it an environmental permit for mining/quarrying at Bengal, St Ann.
In keeping with the decision, the National Environment and Planning Agency developed and proposed robust conditions as integral components of the environmental permit (to be issued), that will govern the operation of the mining/quarrying. For example, we have included the posting of an environmental performance bond, the establishment of a Grievance Framework to be publicised and circulated to all citizens association in close proximity, the operation of a complaints register, measures for flora/fauna protection, requirements for air quality assessment and fugitive dust control measures and detailed measures for the operation of the quarry, amongst many others.
The Agency is mindful of the concerns earlier raised by residents of the surrounding areas hence the strong approval conditions to include unparalleled monitoring and enforcement of those conditions for your protection and environmental protection.
We look forward to and are committed to be of service to you.
Peter G. Knight, CD, JP
Chief Executive Officer/Government Town Planner
National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA)
Back in May this year, these were the reasons that were given by the NRCA for the refusal of mining and quarrying at Puerto Bueno Mountain (there is a much longer and more detailed document, but these are the reasons in a nutshell):
- The proposed development is contrary to and not in keeping with the provisions of the St. Ann Confirmed Development Order, 2000. More specifically policies UC4 and UC5.
- The area is not designated a quarry zone.
- A quarry of this nature, size, scale and intensity will have a deleterious effect on the environment in general and the surrounding uses.
- The impact and loss of biodiversity and natural resources in an area of environmental significance and unique biodiversity is irreplaceable. The quarry is located in an area that has porous limestone and is part of two watersheds, the underground hydrology will be impacted.
- The development will exacerbate the air quality impacts on the air shed. Also, the development may have a deleterious impact on public health particularly from dust and noise generation.
- The unprecedented number of objections received from residents who reside in the surrounding areas as well as stakeholders with particular interests in the area.
- The comments from key partner, the Forestry Department that while the environmental impact assessment “explores the impact of the quarrying operations it does not propose feasible and effective mitigation measures geared towards minimizing the overall negative impact of the quarry on the forested area.”
Source: Letter dated 8 May 2020 from the Natural Resources Conservation Authority to the developers, Bengal Development Ltd / Jamaica World, and their attorney, Abraham Dabdoub.
BENGAL DEVELOPMENT LTD / JAMAICA WORLD had 28 days from the 8th May 2020 in which to file a written appeal to this decision.
Environmentalists have been trying to figure out the reasons for the success of the appeal by the mining company. They have learned that although there is a new ministry called the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, and the Minister is Pearnel Charles Jr, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) – Jamaica’s environmental regulator – has remained under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. The responsible Minister there is the Prime Minister.
While Minister Charles’ ministry is at the all-encompassing Office of the Prime Minister, his specific responsibility is only, according to the OPM’s website “Housing and Water.” But, why has NEPA been separated?
What has really happened here? Why was the decision to protect Puerto Bueno Mountain by the responsible government agency (NRCA) overturned, just six months later? What changed? Who are Bengal Development Limited/Jamaica World LLC – a company that, if you do a Google search, you are going to find very little detail on (and who are the principals)?
Meanwhile, as usual, the Environment portfolio in Government gets pushed around, back and forth, like a sad orphan child no one wants to take under their wing.
What a sad state of affairs. I would like our Government to become “Heroes for our Environment,” please. However, heroes can be disappointing.
We look forward to hearing more.
“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” – Alanis Obomsawin