Mon | Sep 28, 2020

NEPA accused of flouting enviro rules - MoBay Marine Park land-reclamation permits breached protocol, chairman charges

Published:Tuesday | January 14, 2020 | 12:23 AM

Ten years after Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis produced a damning performance audit report regarding the environmental stewardship of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the watchdog is being condemned for disregarding its own environmental rules.

NEPA is now the subject of controversy, as the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust (MBMPT), fishermen, residents of The Lagoons community, Montego Freeport, and other stakeholders are decrying the agency’s decision to allow the reclamation of land for construction of concrete structures and other coastal modifications, within the waters of the Bogue Islands Lagoon Special Fishery Conservation Area, one of Jamaica’s most ecologically sensitive areas.

NEPA granted the first set of permits to the developers of Villa Vivan at Lot 34 at The Lagoons, documents accessed through the agency’s Access to Information Unit have revealed.

The permits were signed by Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Chairman Danville Walker granting approval to the developers to undertake modification, clearance or reclamation of wetlands, construction of a submerged breakwater, maintenance of a rubble groyne, coastal reclamation using 661 cubic metres of material (which equals 66 truckloads) on the foreshore and floor of the sea, and installation of 15 pylons in connection with a gazebo and a boardwalk.

But Blaise Hart, chairman of the MBMPT, the local custodian of the Bogue Islands Lagoon Special Fishery Conservation Area, has come out strongly against the move by NEPA. Hart is aggrieved that the permits were issued without community consultation, as mandated in NEPA’s guidelines for non-environmental impact assessment (EIA) projects, and that the construction was in contravention of the agency’s own Zoning Plan for the Montego Bay Marine Park, which was prepared by its Protected Areas Branch and which forbids projects of that nature.

“It is customary for the MBMPT to review projects within the Marine Park regarding approvals. The MBMPT was not contacted and we strongly object to any development without consultation. Furthermore, we are very concerned that such development would establish a precedent for further land reclamation within the park’s protected areas by additional lot owners, including the entire Freeport community,” Hart said when contacted.

“MBMPT was not contacted regarding this project and did not support the granting of permits. We are unaware of any changes to the regulations. The precedent is of concern and the MBMPT stands in principle against additional land reclamation in the Special Fishery Conservation Area,” he stressed.

DISALLOWED ACTIONS

NEPA’s Approved and Prohibited Activities for the Bogue Islands Lagoon Special Fishery Conservation Area document cites “coastal modifications, construction, or maintenance of any encroachment which falls under beach-licensing regime” as being among the activities that are disallowed within the waters of the fish sanctuary.

NEPA’s guidelines for public consultations, which are mandatory for all “non-EIA applications”, were also allegedly disregarded, even though the agency emphasises in that document that the consultation process is required in order to “further improve transparency and effectiveness of the development application processes” and “allow the public to comment on matters that may impact them directly or indirectly”.

The guidelines state that a public meeting is required when developments are in conservation areas; protected zones, including those not declared under the NRCA Act; developments in protected areas; or marine parks under the NRCA Act; or protected areas under the Beach Control Act.

The development would have also required a media notice publicising the meeting in a widely circulated newspaper/media, other methods of notification such as community noticeboard, flyers, town criers, and have it forwarded to NEPA for posting on its website.

The agency states that “the information that is obtained as part of the public consultation should be documented as part of the process”, that “arrangements for the public meeting must be made in discussion with NEPA in respect of date, time, venue, chairperson and specially invited participants”, and that “a record of the meeting is required and the applicant must submit to NEPA a copy of the verbatim report of the public meeting within seven days of the date of the meeting.

The agency also notes that the ‘Submission of Public Comments Please note that the public will be given a period of two weeks after the public meeting to submit comments in writing to NEPA”.

The Gleaner sent a list of 10 questions to NEPA last week Tuesday, with respect to the development within the lagoon, seeking a response to the complaints within 24 hours, but the agency has still not provided answers to questions more than five days after receipt.

NEPA’s communications department acknowledged receipt of the questions and said that a response would be prepared after discussions with the relevant officers. After The Gleaner recontacted the agency days later, the communications manager promised a response on Friday, and then disclosed late Friday evening that the report would not be available.

editorial@gleanerjm.com