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NEPA in the dark about Noisy River project

Published:Saturday | September 5, 2015 | 9:00 AMChristopher Serju

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) says it has no record of a request for an environmental impact assessment application for the Noisy River community project in north-west Manchester which was highlighted in the House of Representatives on Tuesday by Member of Parliament (MP) Mikael Phillips.

Also, the Water Resources Authority (WRA), which has membership on NEPA's technical review committee, says it had vetoed the proposal based on its potential to cause water contamination.

"The WRA was requested by the National Environment and Planning Agency to comment on the establishment of ecotourism facilities, including sanitary conveniences that would discharge into the limestone, along the One Eye River. The WRA recommended that the proposal should not be approved as the risk to water contamination was high," Basil Fernandez, managing director of the WRA, said in a letter to The Gleaner. This was in response to a front page story published in the newspaper on Wednesday, in which Phillips highlighted the three-phase tourism attraction which is now under construction.

Yesterday, Phillips told The Gleaner that sanitary conveniences, a picnic area, and shops are already in place, with work on some nearby caves set for phase two. A camping site, canopy zip-line, and river tubing are planned for phase three. When asked if the requisite approvals were given prior to start of the project, he was enthusiastic in his response.

"Yes! Yes! Yes! We have approval from NEPA and the Water Resources Authority - everybody is part of what we are doing here. Forestry (Department), because we couldn't start, we couldn't get lease for the land from Forestry unless we got the approval from NEPA. Water Resources Authority, NEPA, SDC (Social Development Commission) are on board. It was NEPA that designed the tile field for us for the bathroom, for the sewage."

No evidence of an application

However, when The Gleaner contacted the regulatory agency, Chief Executive Officer Peter Knight, after consulting with staff in Manchester and the head office could find no evidence of an application for the project, as is required by law.

"What I can tell you is that all our applications are placed in a system called AMANDA that we use to track and retrieve. Once we know the reference numbers, we can look it up. We can look it up by reference number, location, or by the name of the application, or a number of other variables as input to find.

"So, I have had the staff look and we have found no application. I have checked with the staff and no staff member seems to be aware of any activity at the location. I plan to call the member of parliament to ascertain from him if he had had some discussions with NEPA."

After speaking with Phillips, Knight had this to say when this newspaper spoke with him:

"I contacted him and he said that, in the early stages when he was seeking the land to lease, Forestry said that they would have to hear from NEPA and the Water Resources Authority. He told me that he did have a consultation and all the agencies attended. I don't know the circumstances of the discussion, but he didn't get any objection. He tells me that he doesn't recall an application to NEPA, but he has been working with various government agencies on the project."