Raping Virgin Territory

jamaica“Hold down an tek weh.” That’s exactly what it is. Protected lands on Long Mountain that, by law, should remain virgin territory for the benefit of all Jamaicans, for generations to come, have been captured and are about to be deflowered by the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ).

The Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) are mandated to protect conservation lands. Instead of carrying out their mission honourably, it would appear that the NRCA and NEPA have ganged up and held down the virgin so that the HAJ can have its way, back and front. It’s an all-too-familiar scenario.

images-1According to a report published in The Gleaner on Thursday, May 23, the HAJ “posted an environmental bond, valued at between $30 million and $40 million, as part of the preconditions” in order to get a permit for further ‘development’ on Long Mountain. Of course, no environmental bond would be needed if there was [sic] no threat of environmental degradation.

I refuse to use the antiquated subjunctive ‘were’ for ‘was’. I am in no mood for grammatical niceties. The environmental problems with ‘development’ on Long Mountain are decidedly not hypothetical. They are very real. All of the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for the area have clearly identified the risks. It’s not a case of ‘if’ there are going to be problems. And it’s definitely not future tense; it’s present.

ARMAGEDDON MUST BE NIGH

images-3Just ask the leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, and his wife Juliet who are building what appears to be a fortress in Beverly Hills. They seem to know something that the rest of us don’t: Armageddon must be nigh. In the recent rains, an avalanche of stones from their property rolled downhill, propelled by the flood waters spewing from the Long Mountain Country Club into Beverly Hills and the Pines of Karachi.

Instead of feeding the aquifer, rainwater from the housing scheme runs off the hill and goes to waste, damaging roads along the way. This specific problem was forecast in the EIA for the country club that was done in 2000. But the unwelcome findings were simply ignored. And now there’s the threat of a new ‘development’ that will only compound existing environmental dangers.

12945495986xm08TThe $30m-$40m bond will, I suspect, prove completely inadequate to fix the environmental damage the new scheme will cause. It’s like those television ads promising cures for all sorts ailments. When you hear the side effects of the miracle drugs, including death, you wonder if you’re not better off with the original disease. In the case of Long Mountain, it’s even worse. The fertile land is healthy. It should be left exactly as it is. There’s no need to manufacture an environmental problem in order to try to solve it.

Furthermore, this new development below the country club is even closer to the Mona Reservoir. The 2000 EIA for both the country club and the additional 30 acres or so that are now up for grabs predicted that “[a]dditional storm water will be discharged into existing drainage channels to increase erosion on the lower slopes facing the reservoir … . From field observations, there are a number of drainage channels on the lower slope that are capable of carrying storm water laden with sediments directly into the reservoir during periods of high rainfall.”

images-5

Mona Reservoir and Long Mountain

The EIA also warned that if a sewage line from the proposed development is broken, gravity will feed the waste directly into the reservoir. Even worse, the lift station for the new development is to be located right across from the reservoir. In the event of an earthquake or even a burst pipe, sewage is likely to flow freely into the reservoir. And sewage from the country club has already been flowing freely into some homes in the Pines of Karachi.

NOT THE WHOLE STORY

images-7The Gleaner story on the HAJ permit reports that “[t]he subdivision, which should initially have seen the development of 54 residential lots on just over 29 acres of land, came under public scrutiny more than two years ago after its upscale neighbours – the Pines of Karachi and Beverly Hills – raised concerns over how it would impact them”. That’s not the whole story. And it’s not a class issue: ‘upscale’ versus ‘downscale’. I expect that the potential investors in the new development are quite ‘upscale ‘.

The impact of ‘backlash’ development on existing communities is, indeed, an understandable concern. For example, as far as I can tell, no new access roads are going to be built for the proposed development. This will increase traffic congestion, especially since one of the access roads on the approved plan for the Long Mountain Country Club was never built. How the developer got away with it, I don’t know. In any case, Pines of Karachi and Beverly Hills have been forced to accommodate additional traffic that would have used the missing road.

images-6The much bigger picture is protecting the environment. The most recent EIA, commissioned by the HAJ, admits that “the proposed development site is zoned for public open space in the 1966 Confirmed Kingston Development Order for Kingston while in the emerging Kingston and St Andrew Development Order, 2008, the proposed zoning is public open space/conservation”. But the two-faced assessment observes that “there has been in the past a relaxation of the zoning restriction”. So because there have been breaches in the past, we should just keep on turning conservation areas into housing!

images-8All is not lost. There is still one last wall of defence against the encroaching development: The Cabinet. That’s where the final decision will be taken. I hope Prime Minister Simpson Miller and her Cabinet will find the courage to halt the ravaging of Long Mountain. It all started with another PNP administration. They need to make amends. “Wat gone bad a-morning can come good a-evening.”

Changing Dirty Diapers On Earth Day

images-1Last Monday was Earth Day, and one of the big issues environmentalists took up is the foul problem of disposable diapers. We really do have to go back to the good old days of reusable cloth diapers. Remember those bright white nappies on the clothes line, fluttering in the breeze? We’ve given up on them and progressed to throwaway diapers. Sometimes, what looks like progress is pure backwardness.

Washing dirty diapers is not a pretty job, especially if you have to do it by hand. Women usually end up doing the smelly work. Men have a nasty way of getting out of unpleasant domestic duties. But when you see the statistics about the environmental impact of disposable diapers, you quickly realise that recycling diapers is the smart thing to do.

Cloth-diapers11According to an Earth Day special on YouTube, the average baby spends two and a half years in diapers, using four or more each day. This amounts to approximately 3,796 diapers per baby. If you take into account the prospect of ‘once a man, twice a child’, you also have to add adult diapers at the other end of the cycle.

It takes about half a pint of crude oil to make the plastic lining in each disposable diaper. That comes to 1,898 pints of oil and 715lb of plastic per child. The pulp of four and a half trees is needed to make the soft inner padding for two and a half years’ worth of disposable diapers. Eighteen billion disposable diapers are added to US landfills each year, and they take 500 years to biodegrade.

RECYCLED TOILET PAPER

toilet-paper noThen there’s the cost. Reusable diapers are so much cheaper than disposables. And with the IMF breathing down our neck, we might soon have to dispose of even toilet paper. There are so many substandard brands on the market, we might as well stick to personal washcloths, the pedigree of which we can be sure about.

Seriously, though, in many cultures across the globe, water is used instead of toilet paper. It’s seen as much more sanitary. All the same, I don’t think Jamaicans are ready to give up toilet paper. But we certainly know how to ‘tun wi han mek fashion’. We’ve learnt to ‘upcycle’ newspaper, refashioning it as toilet paper. And since a lot of newsprint can quite easily be mistaken for you know what, this seems perfectly appropriate. Incidentally, newspaper with lots of coloured ink is not as good for the bum as classic black and white. Be observant.

In the brilliant documentary Songs of Redemption, set in the General Penitentiary, one of the inmates shows how newspaper is converted into a toilet. You squat, do your thing, and wrap it all up. This disturbing, yet hopeful film was part of the Africa World Documentary Film Festival at the University of the West Indies, which ended on Sunday.  More than 20 films were shown over 4 days and admission was free.  The festival will be back next year, thanks to the University of Missiouri, Saint Louis.

DEAD WOOD AND NO WATER

coal_w304Another devastating environmental issue is deforestation. No, this is not another warning about the proposed ‘development’ on Long Mountain. I hope sanity has prevailed over greed and those protected lands will remain undisturbed. The burning issue is charcoal. Why are we cutting down our forests to make charcoal for export? It would be bad enough for our own consumption. Why are we selling our children’s future to foreigners? Soon, Jamaica will be the land of dead wood and no water.

Then there’s the threat of mining in Cockpit Country, the heartland of Jamaica. It’s not over. A prospecting licence for an area that includes Accompong has not yet been revoked. There’s also the tricky business of defining the boundaries of Cockpit Country. It’s a vast expanse of land, about 500 square miles. If the ‘experts’ have their way, a relatively small area will be defined as ‘Cockpit Country’. This will make it quite easy to actually mine in Cockpit Country under the guise that this isn’t Cockpit Country, after all.

And as for our beaches! They are now disposable, just like dirty diapers. In Negril, morass has been drained, seagrass has been dug out, mangroves have been destroyed and sand has been eroded – all in the name of progress. We are now trying to ‘glue’ the sand back together with ShoreLock, an imported product. It’s a perverse cycle: cut down the trees and export coal; destroy the beaches and import artificial sand.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/466/434/846/no-to-shorelock-on-negril-7mile-beach/

The environmental problems are also out at sea. Jamaica is one of the most overfished countries in the Caribbean. Proverbial wisdom comfortingly claims, “Massa God fish can’t done.” But this is one proverb we have to take with much more than a grain of salt. The Jamaican fishing industry is, in fact, ‘done-ing’ because we haven’t done enough to conserve our fishing grounds.

Dr. Esther Figueroa

Dr. Esther Figueroa

My friend, Dr Esther Figueroa, has made several compelling documentary films on environmental issues in Jamaica. They should be used in schools. I won’t say like Vybz Kartel’s book. Incidentally, there were 75 comments in response to that column, and I would bet my last sprat that not even five of those readers who questioned my sanity have read the book.

Dr Figueroa’s troubling films Massa God Fish Can Done andProtecting Pedro focus on fishery conservation. She’s also done an engaging film, Cockpit Country is Our Home, in which the flora and fauna of this magnificent place assume human form and talk about their endangered habitat. Esther also did an unsettling documentary on the ruination of Falmouth: wetlands dumped up, mangroves destroyed and the coral reef systematically smashed to make way for cruise ships. All of these videos and more are on YouTube, as you will see below.

Earth Day can’t be reduced to a solitary day of reflection on our ecosystem. Every single day should be earth (and sea) day. Deforestation, overfishing, sand erosion, pollution of rivers, destruction of mangroves and coral reefs, mining on protected lands – these must all become our everyday concerns. Environmental issues are not easily disposable. Like wasteful diapers, they don’t just simply biodegrade.

NEPA Selling Off Jamaica’s Future

The ‘P’ in NEPA certainly does not stand for ‘Protection’.  It’s ‘Planning’.  And it looks as if the National Environment and Planning Agency is planning to let the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) sell off as much protected land as ‘developers’ want.   NEPA doesn’t seem to know that protecting the environment should actually be high on its agenda.

On Tuesday, October 2, NEPA called a meeting at the HAJ to advise that it has approved plans to chop down the whole hillside from the Long Mountain Country Club all the way down to the Pines of Karachi – for house lots.  The tag line of the HAJ is “Building Jamaica.  One Community at a time”.  In the case of Long Mountain, it’s more like, “Tearing down Jamaica.  One hillside at a time”.

Long Mountain Country Club

The Long Mountain Country Club should never have been approved.  But greed often takes precedence over commonsense.  The 2000 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project identified grave risks.  The potential threat to the Mona reservoir was foremost.

An estimated 50% increase in surface runoff from the site was likely.  If this runoff got into the reservoir it could “negatively impact the water quality.”  The four wells at the foot of Long Mountain could also be contaminated as a direct result of the development.

Mona reservoir

The report documented the risk of soil erosion as a result of “removing vegetative cover to facilitate construction.”  It advised that, “a build up of sediment reduces the capacity of the reservoir and could also clog pipes and drainage outlets, increasing the maintenance cost of the reservoir to the National Water Commission”.

Despite all the warnings in that 2000 EIA, both the Ministry of Housing and the developer, Robert Cartade, simply disregarded the report.  With the complicity of the Cabinet, led by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, protected public lands were captured for the private Country Club.

 

 ‘Wa gone bad a morning’

The proposal that has now been approved by NEPA was also the subject of that 2000 environmental impact assessment.  Again, the risk to the reservoir was highlighted:  “Additional storm water will be discharged into existing drainage channels to increase erosion on the lower slopes facing the reservoir . . . .  From field observations, there are a number of drainage channels on the lower slope that are capable of carrying storm water laden with sediments directly into the reservoir during periods of high rainfall.”

Long Mountain

Apparently unconvinced by that damning 2000 EIA, NEPA insisted that the HAJ commission a new environmental impact assessment.  The latest EIA concedes that, “the proposed development site is zoned for public open space in the 1966 Confirmed Kingston Development Order for Kingston while in the emerging Kingston and St. Andrew Development Order, 2008, the proposed zoning is public open space/conservation”.

But the two-faced assessment observes that “there has been in the past a relaxation of the zoning restriction”.  So because there have been breaches in the past we should just keep on turning conservation areas into housing!  Both NEPA and the HAJ are promising that it’s only 20 acres that are to be sacrificed this time and 200 acres will remain as public open space.  A promise is a comfort to a fool.  Soon it will be another 20 and another 20 until the whole of Long Mountain overlooking the reservoir will be one big ‘development’.

Both NEPA and the Housing Agency of Jamaica are on a very slippery slope.  They appear to be operating on the ‘principle’ that ‘wa gone bad a morning cyaan come good a evening’.  But is this really so?  Why can’t we stop the erosion of protected lands?  Why should the water supply of Kingston be put at risk?  So that fifty-eight lots can be sold to selfish people who simply must build their dream house on what is supposed to be public lands?

Stinking development

NEPA has stipulated conditions to be met before the HAJ can proceed with selling the lots.  The malfunctioning sewerage system at the Pines of Karachi must be fixed once and for all.   It was sewage from the Long Mountain Country Club that caused the problems further down line:  stinking development.

But at a meeting last year with citizens concerned about the impact of the new development on surrounding communities, the HAJ admitted that it needed the money from the sale of the lots to fix the sewerage system at the Pines of Karachi.  So how is this going to work?  Create a problem and fix it by creating another problem?  And who is going to enforce compliance?  NEPA?

The fifty-eight lots are all on a slope.  So if a sewage line from the site is broken, gravity will feed the waste directly into the reservoir.  Even worse, the lift station for the development is to be located right across from the reservoir.  In the event of an earthquake or even a burst pipe, sewage is likely to flow freely into the reservoir. Is this what we want?

There is also the issue of traffic congestion.  No new access roads are going to be built for the development.  Instead, dead-end roads in Beverly Hills are going to be turned into thoroughfares.  How can this be fair to residents who for over fifty years have lived in relative peace and safety?

Beverly Hills has already been forced to bear the burden of increased traffic from the Long Mountain Country Club.  Montclair Drive used to be a dead-end road.  The developer of the Country Club asked that the road to be temporarily opened up to facilitate construction.  Cartade drew a pretty picture of how the restored cul-de-sac would look:  a beautiful cut-stone wall would be the centrepiece.

  More than a decade later, there is no wall.  And the second access road on the plan for the Country Club has not been built. Residents of Beverly Hills have been hitting their head against the proverbial wall trying to enforce compliance. It looks like only Prime Minister Simpson-Miller and her Cabinet can save Long Mountain from this new wave of backlash development.  Or, God forbid, natural disaster!

HAJ Building ‘Solutions’ On Sand

The policy makers at the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) clearly didn’t go to either Sunday or Sabbath school.  Or if they did, they weren’t there the week the other children were learning the chorus about wise and foolish builders:

The wise man built his house upon the rock

And the rain came tumbling down

And the floods went up

And the house on the rock stood firm.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand

And the rain came tumbling down

And the floods went up

And the house on the sand went ‘splash’!

This catchy children’s song is based on the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 7:24 (New Living Translation):  “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock”.  In this non-sexist translation, the ‘man’ of the King James Version, whether wise or foolish, becomes the gender-neutral ‘person’.  A very wise move.

The HAJ’s reckless policy of converting protected lands into house spots is a classic example of building on sand.  This practice is not at all sustainable.  It’s short-term thinking at its worst.  In fact, the ‘solutions’ the HAJ keeps fabricating to fix the housing shortage in the Kingston metropolitan area often create new problems. An excellent example is the ‘development’ of Long Mountain.  First it was the Long Mountain Country Club.  Now it’s the whole hillside down from the Country Club and right across from the Mona reservoir that’s at risk.

Long Mountain goes ‘splash’

Mona dam

A 2000 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Long Mountain Country Club clearly outlined the potential threats to the reservoir. There was the risk of an estimated 50% increase in surface runoff from the site.  The report warned that if the runoff got into the reservoir it could “negatively impact the water quality.”  The assessment also underscored the importance of protecting the four wells at the foot of Long Mountain which could be contaminated by the development.

Effects of soil erosion

The report documented the risk of soil erosion as a result of “removing vegetative cover to facilitate construction.”  It noted that “a build up of sediment reduces the capacity of the reservoir and could also clog pipes and drainage outlets, increasing the maintenance cost of the reservoir to the National Water Commission”.  The new development (Mona Estate, Section One) that is now being pushed by The Housing Agency of Jamaica was also the subject of that 2000 environmental impact assessment.

Again, the risk to the reservoir was highlighted:  “Additional storm water will be discharged into existing drainage channels to increase erosion on the lower slopes facing the reservoir, particularly where the extensively fractured and fragmented rock is loosely attached to the fine grain matrix and therefore, highly erodible.  From field observations, there are a number of drainage channels on the lower slope that are capable of carrying storm water laden with sediments directly into the reservoir during periods of high rainfall.”

Conflict of interest

P.J. Patterson

That warning about loose rocks running into the reservoir is a reminder that it’s not only sand that’s an unstable foundation for building.  Not all rock stands firm.  Despite all of the warnings in that 2000 EIA, both the Ministry of Housing and the developer, Robert Cartade, simply disregarded the report.  With the complicity of the Cabinet, led by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, protected lands were degraded to make way for the Country Club.

As part of the application process for a permit for the proposed Mona Estate development, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) asked the Housing Agency of Jamaica (the developer) to commission and pay for a new Environmental Impact Assessment.  I do understand that the cost of the assessment must be borne by the applicant.  But, surely, it would be better for NEPA to manage the process rather than the developer.  This would avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest:  He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Howard Mitchell

This issue was highlighted at a meeting convened last Wednesday by the HAJ to present to the public the EIA prepared by EPN Consultants Ltd. In response to questions about the assessment, Barrington Brown, a civil engineer at EPN Consultants, referred more than once to the HAJ proposal in the first person:  ‘we’ and ‘our’ development. I suggested that this was a Freudian slip signifying collusion of the consultants with the HAJ.  I was rebuked by the self-important Chairman of the proceedings, Howard Mitchell, for speaking out of turn.  But it was worth it.

‘Wa gone bad a morning’

The Housing Agency of Jamaica is on a very slippery slope.  It appears to be operating on the ‘principle’ that ‘wa gone bad a morning cyaan come good a evening’. The latest EIA makes it absolutely clear that “the proposed development site is zoned for public open space in the 1966 Confirmed Kingston Development Order for Kingston while in the emerging Kingston and St. Andrew Development Order, 2008, the proposed zoning is public open space/conservation”.

But the two-faced assessment goes on to say that “there has been in the past a relaxation of the zoning restriction”.  So because there have been breaches in the past we should just keep on turning conservation areas into housing!  The HAJ insists that it’s only 20 acres that are to be captured this time and 200 acres will remain as public open space.

A promise is a comfort to a fool.  Soon it will be another 20 and another 20 until the whole of Long Mountain overlooking the reservoir will be one big ‘development’. Those of us who want to protect the environment for ourselves and future generations must appeal to Prime Minister Simpson Miller and her Cabinet to recapture the lands that were so carelessly given to the HAJ.  Or we will all drown when the rain comes tumbling down and the floods go up.