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Environmentalist considers Pedro Cays enforcement orders a joke

Published:Monday | March 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin and Christopher Serju
Peter Espeut

A practical joke with no chance of success, is how environmentalist Peter Espeut views the recent decision by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to serve enforcement notices to have the deplorable unsanitary conditions at the Pedro Cays addressed by April 24.

NEPA has indicated that if conditions are not addressed by that time, all fishing activities will be shut down on the offshore facility.

The enforcement notices signed by NEPA CEO Peter Knight cite the “release of human excreta” on the Pedro Cays, noting that the “absence of appropriate management (facilities for the containment, treatment  or disposal) of human excreta” poses a serious threat to the natural resources and public health of the area.

Left unchecked, these activities will affect the marine environment by reducing the water quality, subsequently negatively impacting the marine flora and fauna (inclusive of coral reefs, conch and lobster fisheries) and also affect the health of persons using the area.

Signed on March 25, the notices target Commissioner of Lands Elizabeth Stair and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry as respondents, directing them to clean up the cays or present a practical work plan to do so by April 24.

Failure to do so could see Stair and Stanberry facing the courts, in keeping with each enforcement notice which states in part: “If you fail to comply with this notice, you may be prosecuted, and the minister may take such steps as he considers appropriate to ensure the cessation of the activity to which this notice relates.”

However, Espeut, who is a natural resource manager, says there is need for clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the different agencies in relation to management of the offshore facility.

He told The Gleaner: “When 40 years go by and no enforcement takes place and then all of a sudden we are seeing this, you have to wonder what is going on. It makes you wonder if this is a political ploy or something. I can’t see how the commissioner of lands is liable. They own it (cays) but they have not given anyone permission to occupy the cays, there’s no agreement, there is no lease.”

“There’s nothing in the Fishing Industry Act that give the Fisheries Division any responsibility to pick up garbage or to the people living on the cays. Any court action brought against these agencies is bound to fail. The group responsible is the NSWMA (National Solid Waste Management Authority) and so I am wondering why there is no enforcement issued to the agencies responsible.”

However the NEPA CEO remains adamant that this action is necessary given the accumulation of human excreta and garbage which now poses very serious threats to human health as well as the marine environment. He also rejected the argument that there was need for clarity about the role of different state agencies in relation to the management of Pedro Cays, pointing to the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee for this stated purpose.

"The actions have become necessary," he told The Gleaner, "because we have been working with the ministry (Agriculture and Fisheries) and you also recall that the ministry did contract consultants to do a carrying capacity study and we have participated in the review, making comments. So they have done a good thing but we have not seen the required movement since the study was completed."

He continued: "We just think they are not giving the matter the urgency it requires and, following our last assessment at the cays which was the last quarter of last year, I recall that I wrote the permanent secretary in the ministry, bringing the assessment as it existed then, to his attention in a letter dated November 26. I did write to the permanent secretary, attached to the report that was done, making recommendations for action to be taken."

He added: "The situation as now exists, would cause us to intervene again. We have decided to move beyond the letter writing and we are taking a firm action which is an enforcement notice.We have given them 30 days…  what it means is that the ministry and the commissioner of lands will have to do the work by then, or show us by then, how they are going to deal with the solid waste issues and also the management of human waste."

Meanwhile, Stanberry told The Gleaner that while the agriculture ministry does have a role to play in correcting the untenable situation on the Pedro Cays, it will not be saddled with the overall responsibility for the entire cleanup.

“We have been working with other agencies of the state that have responsibility for Pedro Cays and from the Fisheries Development Management Fund we are pledging funds to put up once and for all proper toilet facilities and to assist with the removal of garbage. That assistance does not in anyway mean that we accept responsibility for solid waste at Pedro Cays,” the permanent secretary said.

When The Gleaner attempted to contact Stair at her North Street, downtown Kingston office earlier this week, an assistant advised that she was busy and would return our call.