Thu | Sep 29, 2022

Palisadoes strip a ‘hot potato’ topic

Experts warn of disaster; government agencies lack coordinated approach

Published:Sunday | June 27, 2021 | 12:12 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter

Peter Knight (right), CEO of National Environment and Planning Agency, in discussion with Pearnel Charles Jr, minister of housing, urban renewal, environment and climate change, at the National Environmental Awareness Week Mangrove Replanting along the Pa
Peter Knight (right), CEO of National Environment and Planning Agency, in discussion with Pearnel Charles Jr, minister of housing, urban renewal, environment and climate change, at the National Environmental Awareness Week Mangrove Replanting along the Palisadoes strip in Kingston earlier this month.
Dr Mona Webber
Dr Mona Webber
It seems little has been done to address the ‘incomplete’ Palisadoes strip that experts last month warned could spell economic disaster for Kingston if a major hurricane hits.
It seems little has been done to address the ‘incomplete’ Palisadoes strip that experts last month warned could spell economic disaster for Kingston if a major hurricane hits.
Two areas of mangroves were planted/replanted along Kingston's Palisadoes strip recently.
Two areas of mangroves were planted/replanted along Kingston's Palisadoes strip recently.
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Except for a brief tour during which Climate Change Minister Pearnel Charles Jr and technocrats sprinkled a paltry 20 mangrove saplings along the 15-kilometre stretch, it seems little has been done to address the ‘incomplete’ Palisadoes strip that experts last month warned could spell economic disaster for Kingston if a major hurricane hits.

And there seems to be no further plans; at least not for the proposed dredging of sand from rivers and the Kingston harbour to replenish dunes, some of which were destroyed during the multimillion-dollar Palisadoes Shoreline Protection and Rehabilitation Project a decade ago.

For the time being, the Palisadoes issue seems ‘hot potato’ for related government agencies and highlights what appears to be a fight for acceptance for Charles and his far-reaching ministry of housing, urban renewal, environment and climate change, along with other government agents.

This, even as Prime Minister Andrew Holness, on the world stage, touts an undying resolve for addressing climate change issues, exemplified by a raft of policies to deal with forestry, the water sector, ocean and coast zone management policy, among others, in recent years.

“Am I satisfied with the level of support? Yes. Am I comfortable? No,” offered Charles in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner last Wednesday, where he outlined the required synergy between government agencies but stopped short of bemoaning the strains of some of the partnerships. The Palisadoes project is one example.

“It is critical for us to appreciate that there are several agencies that are relevant to that (Palisadoes) issue: The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) being one of the most relevant. NEPA comes under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (MEGJC); not my ministry,” noted Charles, who was joined by NEPA’s CEO Peter Knight on the mangrove-planting excursion days after The Gleaner’s ‘Kingston Exposed’ article.

A week after that tour, Charles said he was still awaiting a formal statement from NEPA on the matter, and shied away from speaking definitively on concerns raised by one marine biologist and structural engineers who have warned that the Palisadoes strip – with its naked boulders – are weakened in its power to protect from coastal flooding.

The minister admitted that several efforts of his ministry are impacted by the actions or inactions of other agencies and the wider public, and for that reason his ministry has been doubling efforts to sensitise Jamaicans.

The MEGJC is under the purview of the Office of the Prime Minister, and last month the National Works Agency (NWA), under whose responsibility the sand dune replenishment also lies, said there was no immediate plan by Government to execute the very expensive dredging and sand deposition project.

In the interim, Holness has remained silent on the issue though Government continues to expel some $950 million on a secondary Port Royal Street Coastal Project, which engineers, including climate scientist Christopher Burgess, managing director of the Civil, Engineering and Coastal (CEAC) Solutions, argued is of lesser importance to Kingston’s protection.

REMAINS CONSTANT

In response to Sunday Gleaner questions Friday, Knight said the proposal for dredging and dune enhancement at Palisadoes was only approved by the National Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and NEPA, and that it was “for implementation by the Permittee/Licensee – the National Works Agency”.

“Two areas of mangroves were planted/replanted. Sand dune nourishment has not been implemented,” he said, noting, however, that “the rock revetment, as designed, has reduced the vulnerability of this section of the Palisadoes to hurricane impacts, notwithstanding the fact that sand dune nourishment has not yet taken place.

“The data shows that the area of mangrove within the Palisadoes-Port Royal Protection Area, which includes the Palisadoes strip, has remained constant at 238 hectares over the past 20 years,” he said, in counteraction to claims by Dr Mona Webber, professor of marine biology at The University of the West Indies (UWI), that a large percentage of mangrove has been depleted from the area.

It was not clear how much of the mangrove was destroyed by the contractors during the project, or what happened to monies allocated to the dredging and dumping of sand on the boulders along the roadway.

Initially, the Government set aside J$50.4 million for the entire revegetation of both sides of the palisades spit. This included monitoring and replacement of the plants over five years. But once the sand dune project was shelved, that figure was revised to $28.5 million, explained Webber.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com