In the wake of sanctions against the agriculture ministry stemming from tree cutting along the banks of Westmoreland's Cabarita River, noted environmentalist Diana McCaulay is calling for buffer zones for the island's rivers.
McCaulay wants a designated area around riverbanks or riparian zones, several metres wide, in which the vegetation is not touched. Studies show that the vegetation in these zones is crucial to prevent soil erosion and control flooding. In cases where vegetation has already been removed, McCaulay believes it should be replaced.
"But we don't have it (buffer zones) and we often allow people to build right down to the water," she said. She noted even some ecotourist attractions don't help matters.
"People who are taking tourists on the river clear the vegetation, so there's a place for the people to sit," she said. "All of that should not be allowed."
On Wednesday, CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), Peter Knight, told The Gleaner that the ministry and the Sugar Transformation Unit were being served enforcement notices by NEPA for the cutting. The ministry explained that workmen were only supposed to clear drains and lop excess branches, but went outside the scope of their contract.
McCaulay noted there are three categories of development of rivers that need environmental permits from NEPA or the Natural Resources Conservation Authority. They are river-basin development and improvement; irrigation and water management and improvement projects; and dredging, excavation, clearing and reclamation of riverine, swamp, beach, wetlands or marsh areas.
"We think the clearing of a riparian zone needs an environmental permit, and if there isn't one, the work should be stopped by NEPA," she said. "Then the proponent can apply for a permit, which NEPA should refuse because of the damage going on. It shouldn't happen."