It is not only the famous beauty spot that is San San and the surroundings of Blue Lagoon, in Eastern Portland, that have been affected by the South Coast Highway Improvement Project. The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has been doing some research and found that there was no community consultation on large stretches of the highway; nor were relevant documents disclosed to the public. Why the lack of transparency and consultation? Here are JET’s comments:
‘Major roadworks in Portland being undertaken without public consultation and an environment impact assessment’
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is concerned that major roadwork in Portland was approved by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) without the conduct of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and consultation with the public. Concerned stakeholders have expressed their concerns to their Member of Parliament but have received no response.
This segment of the roadwork falls under the South Coast Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP) being implemented by the National Works Agency (NWA). JET understands that as far back as 2013, an Environmental Assessment Memorandum (EAM) was done for Segment 1: Port Antonio to Harbour View and Segment 2: Mandeville to Negril. This was submitted as part of an Initial Site Assessment Report. In 2014 an Environmental Report was done for the same segments of roadway. Both documents were never the subject of public consultation and are not in the public domain.
No matter how minor, roadworks are generally disruptive, and if not properly assessed, implemented and monitored, can result in significant negative environmental and social impacts on surrounding areas. Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, JET’s CEO said: “It is important to adequately assess the environmental impacts of all projects, especially infrastructure projects. The findings from these assessments are intended to identify all possible negative environmental and social impacts so that they can be properly mitigated. It is also critical to consult with stakeholders, works should never be allowed to start without this being done.”
The NWA has said that they have an environmental permit from NEPA but since no EIA was required, it is not yet clear what guided this permit or how it is to be monitored. Were biodiversity assessments done before work began? What mitigation measures have been required? More importantly, why was the public not consulted? Is there any intention to meet with the Portland Community regarding this project?
The Government of Jamaica through its local and international commitments have indicated the significance of the country’s natural environment. It is therefore even more important that projects being implemented by Government Agencies be required to demonstrate a higher level of commitment, transparency and protection of the country’s natural resources.