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A contradictory policy

Sunday, February 08, 2015


THE government of Jamaica has reached out to foreign entities to access grants to fight climate change and improve the environment. This is good; but when one looks more closely a number of contradictions appear.

US$5 million in funding has been awarded to the government to address beach erosion in Negril. Breakwaters are to be constructed there -- a project that will require five acres of boulders to be dynamited from a mountain, scarring the Jamaican landscape. There will be trucks rolling in and out of Negril for a year with cranes, and barges placing huge boulders in the sea.

There are no guarantees that the breakwaters will accrete sand on the beach. Professional coastal engineers have advised that the calm sea in Negril may lose natural currents, become stagnant and generate more algae.

So, while ostensibly doing something to help save the environment, the government is pursuing a path that will disrupt life and commerce in the community and may indeed do permanent damage to the swimming quality and reef.

At the same time, the government proposes to change the existing building codes to meet the insatiable demands of new developers. They are being given permission to build four (and possibly more) floors instead of three, against the original development code for Negril of "no building taller the tallest coconut tree." This will irrevocably change the skyline of Negril, where currently most of the hotels are not visible behind and above the trees, one of the alluring qualities of Negril.

Furthermore, this same ministry also wants to allow these new developments to build closer to the sea. The law currently states that buildings must be set back from the high water mark by at least 150 feet, and most hoteliers have adhered to this setback rule. The ones who built closer to the water have suffered the most beach erosion, as their sand has migrated away from the foundations.

The infrastructure in Negril is currently overloaded: Water supply has been an immense problem for years. Hotels on the West End sometimes have no water whatsoever and the beach properties have had to buy water from trucks. The sewage plant is currently at full capacity and is a secondary treatment facility, where partially treated sewage is already flowing into the morass, the river and, ultimately, the sea.

The government is eager to increase the density of Negril by allowing more hotel rooms, in higher buildings, built closer to the sea. International funding is sought to build a dubious remedy (the breakwaters) to a situation (beach erosion) that the ministry is, at the same time, contributing to and legitimising (reduced building setbacks).

This is a contradictory policy and the Negril stakeholders are puzzled that the ministry responsible for protecting our fragile environment now appears to be its biggest threat.

Jane Issa is a director of the Negril Chamber of Commerce.

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