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Slow boat to Goat Islands - Chinese yet to complete studies

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

The country should shortly know more on the proposal by the Chinese for a multibillion-dollar development of a section of the planned logistics hub on the Goat Islands.

Late last week, officials of China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) confirmed that they are close to completing their research and assessments and should be able to provide additional details in another couple of months.

"We are doing our geotechnical studies, which include doing borehole. We are doing our research to see whether or not the programme will be feasible," Jennifer Armond, communications manager at CHEC, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"It takes a few months to do studies, like coastal wave impact and wind surveys to determine the strength of the wind, so we have to do coastal engineering studies plus geotechnical studies. All that will determine the kind of ports we are going to do and even if we are going to go ahead with the port, because all of that determines the cost and the placement of the structure.

"Once they have done the studies they can get to the drawing board and start designing something that suits the terrain, and I think that is a couple months from now, around October," added Armond

Her comments came days before regional director of CHEC, Zhongdong Tang, told our news team that the authorities should not be blamed for any delay in the project.

"It is a kind of partnership in which we are doing some things while the authorities are doing some things," said Tang, who argued that cargo movement to and from Jamaica should increase significantly when the Goat Islands project becomes a reality and the Panama Canal is enlarged.

Development submission

In the meantime, Transport and Works Minister Dr Omar Davies told our news team that once CHEC decides on its way forward, a development submission will be made to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA)

"This is a major project so the parent company is carrying out due diligence on a range of things; one is, of course, the environmental issue. They have to carry out their own test and analysis before submitting an application of the proposed development to NEPA.

"So that work is going on. It is not like nothing is happening. I expect that before the end of the year all those assessments will be carried out and we go to NEPA," said Davies.

According to Davies, NEPA will commission its own assessment on environmental impact assessment, and from that determine if any amelioration is necessary.

But Armond is not worried that NEPA will find the project an environmental hazard, as she argued the CHEC has taken specific steps to ensure that the integrity of the environment is protected.

"In all projects that we are undertaking we consider the environmental impact and we try and do as much as possible to save what is there or to relocate a similar situation. We do developments to stimulate the economy and to create solutions to serve the growing population of the country."

No comment on financing

The CHEC official did not comment on the financing of the project but Davies told our news team that other investors are being lined up.

"Under the assumption that they are going to get the go-ahead, they are exploring the possibility of other investors because they don't want to make the thing an investment by CCCC (China Communications Construction Company) and China Harbour (alone).

"There are things they are going to do, like build a trans-shipment port. So I think that people should understand that this is much more than building like, say, a road. This is a significant investment, so they are also exploring financing. They have to ensure that they can identify the cheapest financing to facilitate the investment," added Davies.

The works minister, who had previously indicated that CHEC wants to construct its own coal-fired plant to generate power on the Goat Islands, was less firm on the matter when pressed last week.

"That is part of the assessment; they said very early on the cost of power now would undermine potential for manufacturing activity, so that's another thing that they want to look at," said Davies, even as he indicated that a company has already been granted a permit for the construction of a coal plant in the Portland Bight Protected Area of St Catherine.

But if coal is not used to power the Goat Islands development, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is positioning itself to provide cheaper energy to the development.

Senior vice-president for generation and project development at the JPS, John Kistle, told The Sunday Gleaner that his company is ready to take up the mantle of power generation should it be given that opportunity.

"JPS has been working to bring gas into Old Harbour Bay, and that gas would be deployed at the Old Harbour power plant for re-powering. If we will be able to use that gas at the terminal for a power source at the logistics hub, then sure we would. Absolutely, that's an option," said Kistle.

"Even if we just make our powerhouse bigger and run a cable over; there are all kinds of ways we will be able to enable a lower-cost energy at that facility.

"We are already doing what we can to bring cheaper electricity to the connected customer today. What I'm saying is if we have that terminal that allows JPS to expand the supply of that cheaper electricity to the logistics centre, then that can help enable the logistics centre."

  • Cautious welcome from fishermen

Scores of persons who make
their living from fishing in the waters near the Goat Islands, have
indicated a willingness to accept the planned development of the
logistics hub on the basis that it provides employment for people in the

One 23-year fisherman from Old Harbour told The Sunday Gleaner
that his colleagues are willing to welcome the logistics hub, provided
it generates jobs for them as they foresee no major impact on the

"As a fisherman, I know that there are fish still
there, but I don't think that it is going to affect the fish. But as an
environmentalist what I am concerned about is the other type of flora
and fauna that is there," said Errol Cameron, past chairman of the Old
Harbour Bay Fishermen's Co-operative and past secretary of the Jamaica
Fishermen's Co-operative Union.

"They are saying that Goat Island
is the best suited site for the logistics hub, and that from my
knowledge is actually true. But we don't know what they plan to do ..."
added Cameron.