OPPOSITION TO the installation of breakwaters to arrest beach erosion in Negril has cast a cloud over Jamaica's climate-change adaptation project, which is being financed through the Adaptation Fund.
The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), serving as the national implementing entity (NIE) for the three-year project, is now moving to settle the emerging concerns from tourism and other interests - ahead of a visit from the Fund's assessment team next month.
"We are trying to see if we can talk to Mr Lee Issa [of Couples Resorts]. If he can get a group together, we will talk to that group and then go to the wider community," said Claire Bernard, PIOJ's deputy director general.
The aim, she said, is to clear up any misunderstanding and reach consensus on next steps so that the project - called 'Enhancing the Resilience, of the Agriculture Sector and Coastal Areas to Protect Livelihoods and Improve Food Security', of which the breakwaters form one component - can progress.
Negril stakeholders have used as fuel for their opposition concerns over aesthetics, the loss of snorkelling ground, and potential damage to the marine ecosystem.
On Monday, Bernard and project manager Shelia McDonald-Miller noted that the breakwaters, measuring 990 metres in total, would be located 1.5 metres away from the shoreline and would be submerged.
"As I understand it, it is something that you will not be able to see from the shoreline. What I am advised from the technical people is that, for stability, you will have one or two stones above the water at low tide and also because the floor of the sea is not a level plain," the PIOJ boss said.
Still, the NIE team said they were shocked at the opposition, following what they described as extensive public consultations done by consultant Dr Barbara Carby.
"When the PIOJ was developing the proposal document, there was extensive consultation. In the Negril case, in particular, some of the stakeholders who are having a new perspective now were in the consultation," McDonald-Miller said. "We are a bit surprised at the type of concerns that are emerging ... and if you follow the headlines ... it sounds like an outright repudiation of something that they had endorsed."
Bernard said she is concerned for the future of the project.
"A need was expressed and we have gone to the market to solicit resources to address the need. The people who give these resources monitor the news on their programmes on a regular basis," she told The Gleaner.
"The fact that we went to them and submitted a programme proposal, which purports to have benefited from community consultation, and now to see the same community that we purported to have consulted with proposing such vehement rejection of the project, really puts us in a bad light. It is suggesting that the consultations we said we did, we did not do - and we did do the consultations," Bernard added.
In fact, the PIOJ boss said adjustments were made to the original project plans based on those consultations.
Bernard was quick to add that any alternative solution to the progressive erosion of the Negril shoreline, such as beach nourishment, would and could not be financed with the $5.4 million allocated for the breakwaters.
"We cannot use the money for beach nourishment which the community wants. We did not go to the Fund to do beach nourishment ... the Fund was not going to do that. As a matter of fact, the Adaptation Fund said it is established to do concrete adaptation ... . They need to see something that is going to stand up to definitive impact," she said. "We are really concerned that, here it is, we are faced with giving back the money."
Still, the duo said the NIE is committed to resolving the concerns and determining a way forward in the best interest of all stakeholders.
"We want to have something where the buy-in is there. It is not about getting money and going in to do the work. We also want to know that the community and business people are on board with us," McDonald-Miller said.
The Adaptation Fund was established following hard-fought negotiations at the level of the United Nations Climate Change Talks to give developing countries, such as Jamaica, direct access to financing for climate-change adaptation. Jamaica is the first country in the Caribbean to benefit from the Fund.