Editorial | Bulldozing ahead with Bernard Lodge city
In the absence of an obvious groundswell of opposition, the Government, it seems, is bulldozing ahead with its decision to create a new city on the alluvial plains of St Catherine.
Last week, Daryl Vaz, a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister Andrew Holness' Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, named a five-member enterprise team, chaired by lawyer Joseph Shoucair, to oversee the project. But it turns out that while Mr Shoucair's appointment has only now been disclosed, his group has been at work for several months, to the point of having not only received, but approved, projects for the development.
A week ago, for instance, this newspaper reported on Mr Shoucair's disclosure of a planned US$5-million bamboo-to-commodities factory for the city, as well as a proposed US$130-million spend by Caribbean Broilers on an agro-industrial facility. The details of these planned undertakings are not yet public. Mr Vaz, however, has promised an engagement of "stakeholders".
This newspaper continues to urge caution with the Bernard Lodge idea. The Government ought to consider alternative sites for a new city. We would be surprised if Audley Shaw, the minister with responsibility for agriculture, but for his Cabinet obligation of collective responsibility, doesn't agree with our position.
Bernard Lodge, among the most fertile areas of Jamaica, was once covered with sugar plantations. In recent decades, as sugar has waned, the plains have been encroached upon for housing. The previous administration, as Mr Vaz reminded, sold more than 350 acres to private developers to accommodate 2,000 houses. This initiative will cover 4,677 acres and facilitate 17,000 houses, as well as industrial, commercial and recreational complexes.
We, however, are concerned that too much of Jamaica's best agricultural lands have been given over to real estate and that this project will continue that trend, while placing in danger Mr Shaw's vision of putting idle, arable land back into agriculture in an effort to strengthen Jamaica's food security. Ultimately, the aim is to lower substantially the island's annual food-import bill of more than US$700 million, build its agro-industrial base, and increase its earnings from exports.
WHAT OF ENVIRONMENTAL STABILITY?
But the protection of agriculture and food security are not the only bases upon which we are concerned about the Bernard Lodge city. There is the matter, too, of its environmental sustainability.
Several months ago, Basil Fernandez, Jamaica's leading hydrologist, writing in this newspaper, calculated that 17,000 homes would, daily, demand 15,000 cubic metres, or 3.22 million gallons, of water, not taking into account the requirements of the city's industrial and commercial facilities.
"This water demand cannot be met - neither from the alluvium aquifer nor the limestone aquifer of the Lower Rio Cobre Sub-basin, the water resources of which are both overallocated," he said.
Mr Vaz has reported that the National Water Commission plans a new water-treatment facility on the Rio Cobre, to produce 15 million gallons of potable water daily, which, presumably, will serve the new city. We are not sanguine about the sustainability of this supply.
To be clear, it is not that we are against new cities. We just don't think that they should, any longer, be built on the most arable acreages when so much marginal land is available. Further, Bernard Lodge is next door to the municipality of Portmore, whose buildout and upgrading should first be contemplated, particularly because the Labour Party had advised of its intention to make it Jamaica's 15th parish.
Additionally, it seems to us that, on this issue, the cart is decidedly before the horse. Projects for the Bernard Lodge city have already been approved, ahead of the conversations that Mr Vaz has promised. Where is the transparency in that?