When Beenie Man's hit single Who Am I (Sim Simma) was released in Jamaica in 1998, the DJ soon found himself in a rather awkward position. He had to keep on explaining that there was a crucial punctuation mark after 'fellow'.
How can I make love to a fellow?
In a rush, pass mi the keys to my truck
Who am I?
The girls dem luck.
'Wicked and bad-mind' detractors insisted that there was no question mark after 'fellow'. It came after 'rush'. According to them, Beenie Man was confessing that he didn't mind making love to a fellow. He just didn't want to do it in a rush. The placement of the question sign made all the difference.
Like Beenie Man, I must point out the fact that NEPA completely missed the punctuation mark in the headline of my column published on February 6, 2011: 'NEPA in bed with developers?', I was asking an admittedly provocative question, not making a declaration. In a letter to the editor dated February 18, 2011, NEPA goes to great lengths to refute a claim I did not make.
I suspect that NEPA is protesting too much. Furthermore, NEPA fails to adequately answer the question I do raise. If all of what NEPA alleges in its letter to the editor is actually true, on what basis was the sale of housing lots on Long Mountain advertised on August 2, 2009, under the signature of the minister of housing and water, Dr Horace Chang?
NEPA claims the following: "Professor Cooper wrote disparagingly of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and may have misled readers to believe that the Housing Agency of Jamaica Limited (HAJ) has obtained subdivision approval for lands 'part of Mona, Papine Estates and Goldsmith Villa, St Andrew'."
Selling government lands without approval?
Let us suppose that it is, indeed, true that the HAJ has not yet obtained subdivision approval for the lands in question. Can this statement by NEPA be reasonably interpreted to mean that the HAJ was offering for sale government lands without the approval of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, the agency to which NEPA reports on these matters?
The answer to that pressing question is to be found in another statement made by NEPA in its letter to the editor: "In June 2009, an enquiry application was also received from the Ministry of Water and Housing to subdivide 8.45 hectares of land into 60 service lots. NEPA responded within the month, advising that further processing of the application would require the comments of the National Works Agency (NWA) and the Mines and Geology Division (MGD)."
So far, so good. But as it turns out, by NEPA's own account, the very agencies that have been set up to protect the environment appear to be failing to exercise due diligence. Without the benefit of even a minimal environmental site assessment, all of the government agencies cited below were prepared to give their approval to the subdivision.
According to NEPA, "The subdivision application was circulated to a number of commenting agencies: the Environmental Health Unit - Ministry of Health, NWA, Water Resources Authority and MGD. Comments were received from each agency, none of which objected to the subdivision of the land for housing with conditions for approval included, as is the customary practice."
NEPA is now pointing fingers, apparently claiming to be the lone voice of sanity in a wilderness of woeful bureaucratic slackness. The agency reports that it insisted that an environmental site assessment be done.
It seems as if it is only because the Beverly Hills Citizens' Association Benevolent Society (BHCABS) contested the dubious findings of that inadequate site assessment that NEPA further demanded that a much more elaborate environmental impact assessment be undertaken by the HAJ. Up to now, that impact assessment has not been done.
NEPA's letter to the editor promises the following: "We can assure Professor Cooper and the BHCABS that their views will be incorporated in the deliberations leading to a final determination on this application."
Proverbial wisdom warns that a promise is a comfort to a fool. Residents of Beverly Hills are not going to be fooled by empty words.
In my column 'NWC killing us softly' (January 24, 2010), I quoted the findings of a rigorous environmental impact assessment done in 2000 that documented the probable negative impact of the construction of the Long Mountain Country Club. A decade later, evidence of the accuracy of that assessment is plain to see.
In the last flood rains brought on by Tropical Storm Nicole, water that should have sunk into the earth, feeding the aquifer, instead wastefully rushed down the hillside off the asphalted streets of the country club. Huge boulders were dislodged, which dangerously levelled a major retaining wall on Beverly Drive. Several roads were washed out and some still have not yet been repaired.
With other members of the association, I accompanied 'our' MP, Dr St Aubyn Bartlett, on a tour of the most devastated areas. He flatly refused to believe the report of residents that there had never ever been such large-scale flooding of Beverly Hills before the construction of the Long Mountain Country Club. Dr Bartlett fully supports the HAJ's foolhardy proposal to convert more protected government lands into house lots.
Hopefully, the environmental impact assessment that NEPA has now demanded from the HAJ will reconfirm the findings of the 2000 assessment: No further housing 'development' should be allowed on Long Mountain. But why would it have taken a full decade for us to go right back to where we started? Profit over principle? Heaven deliver us from those government agencies that Never Ever Protect Anything!
Carolyn Cooper is an ideator. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com/. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.