Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Huge concerns in Hanover as NEPA fails to request EIA for Green Island housing development

Published:Tuesday | April 11, 2017 | 4:00 AMMark Titus
A section of the Winchester property.
A section of the housing scheme units being built at Winchester in Green Island, Hanover. No environmental Impact Assessment has been conducted for the 1,000-unit property.
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While the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is confident that its decision not to request an environment impact assessment (EIA) from the developers of Winchester Estate in Hanover is sound, Lucea's mayor, Councillor Sheridan Samuels, is adamant that the agency must make all checks to reassure the public and prospective owners.

"This is news to me and cannot be true. I will need to have a discussion with NEPA immediately because such a decision is totally unacceptable!" said Samuels last week. "I don't believe in this discretion thing. NEPA must do their job.

"This development was initiated before I took office, but it is in our interest to get answers to any such decision. I am aware of the development, and we are all excited for the people, but I don't understand why all the available checks were not done. What if a house is built on top of a cave?" said Samuels, who was appointed chairman of the Hanover Municipal Corporation after the local government elections late last year.

There is no mention of the project, which is located in the Green Island area, on the website of the developers, Selective Homes Limited, but according to the NEPA, an environment permit was granted for the "subdivision of 524,441.73 square metres of land into 1,055 lots and construction of 1,003 units", at an NRCA, TCPA board meeting on August 16, 2016. The official groundbreaking took place in September 2016.

"It's not in an environmentally sensitive area, so in terms of what was presented, we would not have asked for an EIA," an official at NEPA told Western Focus. "We are confident that an EIA was not necessary."

But Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), has also expressed grave concern about NEPA's decision.

"Yes, I am aware that the National Environment and Planning Agency can decide if they should request an (EIA) or not," said McCaulay.

"It used to happen in the past but was reduced significantly for some time, but a perfectly good question to ask is why a project of this size would not attract an EIA. It is discretionary (and is) one of the big problems with our environmental laws," the environmental activist continued. "The EIA process is the only way the public gets to know about it. That's another reason why it is important because there has to be a public consultation."

NO INFORMATION ON ESTATE

When Western Focus visited the model houses on the property, a representative of Selective Homes sought to assure us that all the requirements from NEPA and other state agencies had been met and even advised that we look on the firm's website. However, when the website was checked, no mention was made of Winchester Estate.

The Winchester units are made of steel-reinforced concrete walls and concrete slab roof, and feature sliding PVC windows with insect screens and an open floor plan with areas for a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living room area. The bathroom features a pedestal basin, shower with sliding tempered-glass shower doors and full shower trim, while the kitchen has a small floor cabinet with a stainless steel sink and faucet. The minimum size of each lot will be 3,200 square feet and will allow for further expansion in strict adherence with pre-approved designs. Phase One is to be completed in September, with costs beginning at $4.6 million.

Ainsworth Bennett, a 46-year-old returning resident, says that he had made several calls to NEPA after being unable to determine when the public consultation would be held but was only advised that the area was "safe".

"The response from NEPA is just not good enough, and even though I have some knowledge of the area and have no reason to think there are any issues, it does not hurt to give prospective buyers greater assurance that their investment will be safe."

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com