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No major disruption expected from Negril breakwater construction — McNeill

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicoabserver.com
Monday, April 20, 2015


TOURISM Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill says the agencies involved in the construction of the controversial breakwaters in Negril have given him the assurance that there will be no major or extended interruption to tourism activities in that resort town.

Speaking at a press briefing last week, McNeill said he had long made his concerns known to the National Works Agency (NWA) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

"I have met with NEPA and the National Works Agency and indicated to them that we really couldn't tolerate, (major) disruption of our industry... I had indicated that if the project goes ahead, then there must be a committee of local persons set up there, who I could speak to regularly -- persons who have a lot at stake -- who would be in touch with them (the agencies), to ensure that what is said is done. The first thing is a question of when the work is done... the timing of the majority of the heavy work, would be a critical issue, and they have agreed wholeheartedly," he said.

Additionally, the tourism minister said he had also impressed upon the NWA and NEPA, that they must be mindful of how the project is carried out. "They have given me assurances that they will be able to do it with minimum interruption. They were able to convince me, that while there would always be some disruption, that they will be able to do it without major disruption," McNeill stated.

The Government could move ahead with the project by year end, the minister disclosed. This, despite strong protest from the Negril community, particularly environmentalists, who have insisted that a softer solution should be taken, instead of the breakwater -- which is a barrier that is constructed out at sea to act as a buffer between the shoreline and forceful waves.

They argue that the breakwaters will adversely impact the environment, and will not permanently solve the problem of beach erosion -- a problem which NEPA says is quite severe in some sections of the famous seven-mile stretch of white-sand beach.

Just last week, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association (JHTA) Negril chapter, joined the community, in calling for the project to be abandoned.

Already, the project has missed at least two start dates due to the back and forth between the Government and those who oppose implementation.

At a Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange last month, NEPA representatives indicated that the project had missed its latest deadline of March 2015 to accommodate further dialogue between the parties.

NEPA continues to defend its position, that swift action must be taken, as some 30 metres of beach has already been eaten up by the sea in as many years. According to the state environmental protection agency, at least one metre of beach will be lost each year, if nothing is done. It maintains that the breakwaters are the most sensible option.

Despite the extensive dialogue, the matter appears to be a done deal, as the NWA has already been given the necessary licences for dredging of an area to stockpile the construction materials, to build the structures, and for the foreshore management.

The breakwater project has also received the backing of Sandals Resorts International, Jamaica's leading hotel chain.

The authorities have dismissed beach nourishment as an option, contending that with Jamaica's susceptibility to major weather systems, the first powerful storm, could wash away that type of structure. Beach nourishment essentially involves manmade sand dunes, which are used to protect the eroding shoreline, or widen an existing beach. According to experts, beach nourishment does not stop erosion, but environmentalists, favour this softer solution.

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