Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Err on the side of caution

Published:Friday | December 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Horseback riders along the Negril shoreline. NEPA and the NRCA have approved a proposal for the installation of breakwaters off the Negril coastline. - File

Lee Issa, Guest Columnist

I was surprised and disappointed to hear the news of the approval by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority and the National Environment and Planning Agency of the breakwater project in Negril.

The beach is not static - it is a moving area of sand. Over the past 40 years in Negril, we have gained beach and we have lost beach. While there is an overall loss in some areas, today at Swept Away we have the same beach width as when we first built the hotel in 1990. But we obeyed the setback of 150 feet and the density rules. Interestingly, today, most properties on Long Bay have naturally regained 20 to 30 feet of beach from where it was two years ago.

In business, as in life, I have always tried to minimise risk and avoid decisions that cannot be easily rectified if they prove to be wrong. Such a precautionary approach is even more important when the risk is to our marine environment, especially the coral reef and the coastline - both of which sustain the livelihoods of many people, not only in the local area but also far beyond.

The breakwater construction would be substantially irreversible, yet as with all new and unproven structures, it would carry risk not least to the adjacent coral reef within the 'protected' marine park but also to unforeseen and unpredicted movements of the sand. Surely, isn't it better to explore low-risk solutions that can be adapted through a 'learning-by-doing' process as experience and practical knowledge is gained from implementation?

I believe that we should explore what our neighbours in Cuba are doing to preserve their famous Varadero Beach, and that is beach nourishment. We in Negril have identified the source of the sand to do the beach nourishment. Once the boulders are put in, they cannot be removed, their maintenance may be highly problematic, and the poor aesthetics threaten the quality of the coastal environment, which is such a vital element of Negril's character and attraction. Most significant is that the breakwaters will not accrete sand on Long Bay Beach.

Beach nourishment will give everyone in Long Bay a wide beach and buy us time to restore the damaged ecosystems. I am asking that NEPA and the NRCA rethink their decision and do what is best for the environment, as well as the Jamaican economy.

Couples Resorts employs more than 1,000 people in our Negril properties and support local suppliers - farmers, craftsmen, construction workers, attractions, and tours. We are a Jamaican family-owned and operated resort group with significant international recognition.

We see on Trip Advisor, blogs and other social-media threads that visitors are worried about this project, and some say they will not come back if it goes ahead.

Jamaica cannot afford to lose visitors, and with Cuba about to open their doors to the USA, I think it would be best not to proceed with this project in its present form and to take account of the voices advocating a more serious consideration of alternative solutions to the problems identified.

Lee Issa is chairman of Couples Resorts and director of the Negril Chamber of Commerce. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.