Norman Brown | Benefits, not blackmail, Dr Cooper
In keeping with its mandate to provide housing solutions for low- and middle-income Jamaicans and given the scarcity of suitable land for development in Kingston, the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) plans to develop and sell 50 lots on 20 acres (of the 91 acres) of government-owned lands in an elevated area adjoining Long Mountain Country Club (known as Mona Section 1).
The proceeds of this sale will permit the construction and delivery of affordable houses in other locations to Jamaicans.
It will be recalled that approval was granted by the P.J. Patterson administration in the early 2000s for the construction of Long Mountain Country Club with the stipulation by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) then that a portion of this tract be reserved as a conservation area.
On July 17, after extensive public consultations during the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process, the HAJ met with representatives of the Beverley Hills, Long Mountain, and Karachi communities who had concerns about the planned development.
At that meeting, the HAJ sought to address the anxieties of the residents by answering their queries and sharing a PowerPoint presentation on the project, which may be summarised as follows:
- The HAJ wishes to build a community that integrates well with the existing surrounding communities of Karachi, Long Mountain Country Club, and Beverly Hills.
- All required approvals by NEPA have been obtained.
- In fulfilment of the requirements of the environmental permit, the HAJ will build a community playground that will be accessible not only to the new residents, but also to the surrounding communities.
- A conservation space opposite the development site will also be preserved as a public open space, in keeping with the conditions of the environmental permit.
- An EIA was completed as part of the environmental permit application and involved public consultation as part of the process.
- The HAJ has engaged in preliminary discussions with the Long Mountain National Park, a registered charity, to allocate the remaining lands at Mona Section 2 for designation as an active recreational space and national park. The national park will include such features as a nature trail, a jogging trail, bird watching, and hiking.
ERRONEOUS ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
The HAJ was requested to commission an EIA as part of the criteria for consideration for approval. The findings of the EIA were subject to public consultation and feedback.
In addition, the public discussions that were facilitated probed these particular areas of concern:
- Whether Long Mountain is the watershed area for the Mona Dam. This claim was refuted by the National Water Commission (NWC).
- Whether discharge of additional storm water in the drainage channel could erode the lower slopes facing the reservoir.
- The likelihood of sewage from the proposed development entering the Mona reservoir.
- The need to assess the potential impact of the proposal with respect to the reservoir and the potable water supply, wildlife, and solid waste.
- After rigorous analysis and public consultation, and having established several conditions of approval, by which the HAJ has to abide in order to preserve its validity, NEPA granted an environmental permit for the development in May 2013.
- There is no scientific or geographical evidence to support the claim that HAJ’s proposed development can influence the water quality of the Mona Reservoir through surface run-off, storm water, or sewerage.
- The development will connect to NWC’s central sewer line and will not use soakaway pits or other forms of on-lot sewerage.
- The NWA presented no challenges with traffic management, nor does the proposed number of solutions exceed the threshold that would necessitate a traffic impact assessment.
Having shared this information and listened to, and held, a frank and lengthy discussion with the community members, the HAJ found it strange that despite the findings of the 2011 EIA, which contained no objections to the development of lots and residential units in that area, that a column by Dr Carolyn Cooper would appear in The Sunday Gleaner dated September 29, 2019, attacking the HAJ, NEPA, and the project itself, based in part on a number of long-debunked inaccuracies.
As a responsible government agency charged with providing housing solutions within reach of the many Jamaicans needing homes, the HAJ has engaged, and listened to, the views of the stakeholders of this project, but ultimately, our decisions must ensure the highest and best use of the lands that will achieve the greatest benefit to all Jamaicans, in the interest of nation-building and not just serve the special interests of a certain section of society.
If the HAJ is not able to proceed with this project, the next option would be to sell the lands to a private developer.
The HAJ is convinced that it would be the best steward of these lands and dedicate the kind of care, environmental integrity, due diligence, and social responsibility in the development of this project that no private developer would as our interests are not solely commercial.
- Norman Brown is chairman of the Housing Agency of Jamaica. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org