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.”

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.

What’s that foul smell, NEPA?

Dear NEPA,

This is an open letter to you from the board of directors of the Beverly Hills Citizens and Benevolent Society. As you very well know, the National Environment and Planning Agency of Jamaica (NEPA) is charged with the protection and development of our natural infrastructure. Do you have the teeth to do your job properly?

Are you satisfied with the circumstances in which you now find yourself? Both NEPA and the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) are located in the same ministry, answerable to the minister of water and housing. Isn’t NEPA’s strength being watered down? How can you independently carry out your mandate when HAJ is constantly snapping at your heels? Their job is to provide housing solutions, and it sometimes seems as if they want to build more and more housing in every available green space.

But it gets worse. How is it that some of the members of NEPA’s board of directors are also on the board of HAJ? Some of your board members are quite vocal in declaring their interest, either for or against particular developments. In the case of the proposed development of some 54 lots overlooking the Mona Reservoir and uphill from Pines of Karachi, there is a very strong stench in the air; it’s called conflict of interest.

Is there a policy for dealing with the cloudy issues that do arise when a matter comes up for deliberation involving a member of the board of either NEPA or HAJ who is a resident of a community that will be affected by the boards’ decisions? Are these members asked to sit out the discussion and the vote? Have the members of the board of directors of HAJ been barred from being beneficiaries of any of the agency’s developments? Have the members of NEPA’s board been similarly barred?

Stench of failed promises

Pines of Karachi townhouse

We don’t know the answers to these questions. What we do know is that a foul smell is usually a sign of trouble brewing. For nearly a decade, the residents of Pines of Karachi have been bawling out about a stench. Apparently, when the Long Mountain Country Club was built, a sewer pipe from the development was connected to the one in Pines of Karachi. As a consequence, sewage from the Club quite frequently floods some of the houses in Pines of Karachi.

The residents of that community have been engaged in an extensive letter-writing campaign to the ‘authorities’ about the stench of failed promises. They have gone public on radio and in the press. With what result? The stench remains. And their character has been maligned. Those long-suffering citizens have been accused of being ‘bad-minded’, because they have assigned blame for the nasty impact of the Long Mountain development on their community. They are misrepresented as being ‘against’ housing solutions.

This is not so. What they want is quite simple: Their tax dollars must be used by the relevant government agencies to fix the foul problem. The faulty sewage system resulted from the failure of the responsible agencies to do their job properly.

Given this history, we want NEPA to answer this question: How is it that when HAJ proposes to clear 54 lots across from the Mona Reservoir, the developer for the Government designs the plan to ADD the sewage from these new lots to the same stinking sewer in the Pines of Karachi that has been malfunctioning for a decade? How is it that the experts at the housing agency see no problem in making that recommendation?

The same Anansi story

More questions: How is it that the approved plan for the Long Mountain Country Club was for 300 houses, but 600 were built?

What happened to the road that was approved for the bulging development? It magically disappeared off the map with dire consequences for the residents of Beverly Hills. Montclair Drive has become the main through road for the Country Club. The huge volume of traffic from the 600 households, many with more than one vehicle, is far more than the narrow roads in Beverly Hills were meant to bear.

When the Country Club was being developed, the then minister of water and housing wrote a letter to the Beverly Hills Citizens and Benevolent Society assuring us that the opening up of the natural cul-de-sac at the top of Montclair Drive was a temporary measure to allow critical earth-moving machinery to easily access the Long Mountain construction site. We were given a commitment in writing that a cut-stone wall would be built to restore the cul-de-sac.

How is it that 11 years later, the temporary access road is still very much in use? The residents of Pines of Karachi were told the same Anansi story. Access through their community was to be ‘temporary’.

A recent survey of traffic from the Long Mountain Country Club tracked 2,400 vehicles moving along the ‘temporary access’ roads through Beverly Hills and Pines of Karachi.

So, NEPA, do you plan to take the advice of the experts who have told you in their recent environmental impact assessment that all is well with the proposed development? How can the National Works Agency, in all honesty, claim that the existing roads are ‘adequate’ for the new development of 54 lots? The smell is rising. Are you simply going to ‘cork’ your nose? Or are you going to trust the evidence of your senses?

Does NEPA have teeth? HAJ certainly does. It is whistling along its merry way. It is not responsible for fixing the mess that other agencies make. And it has an ace up its sleeve. It knows that anyone who opposes suspiciously smelly housing ‘solutions’ is going to be accused of ‘elitism’. That’s a big, bad curse word; redder than the reddest of bloody cloths.

The JLP Shows Its True Colours

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) seems to be really going green and taking a firm stand on environmental issues. Minister of Housing and Water Dr Horace Chang, who has oversight responsibility for environmental issues, recently admitted that a lot of ‘development’ in the Corporate Area is downright dangerous.

 ‘Chang predicts disaster for upper St Andrew’ was the screaming headline of an Environment Watch article by Luke Douglas, published on September 28.

Speaking about houses on overdeveloped sites such as Jacks Hill and Long Mountain, Dr Chang made a startling prophecy: “They’re going to come down.” The minister appears to support Mayor McKenzie’s principled position that the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) will not approve further construction on Long Mountain.

Dr. Horace Chang

This, of course, could be nothing but doublespeak: Say one thing and mean another. Or, even worse, say one thing and do the very opposite. In fact, as reported in Environment Watch, there’s a catch to Minister Chang’s apparent advocacy of sustainable development. You have to read the fine print:

“While declining to clearly state the areas where no construction should take place, Chang said he would be guided by the ministry’s technocrats in this regard, and that the development orders should be carefully examined by the KSAC and relevant entities, such as the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).”

Conflict of interest

Quite frankly, I have no confidence that the ministry’s technocrats are going to guide Dr Chang in the right direction. The fundamental problem is the obvious conflict of interest within the mega-ministry. The agendas of the housing and environment sectors appear to be diametrically opposed.

The Housing Agency of Jamaica Ltd (HAJ) is mandated to find ‘solutions’ to the nation’s housing problems. Shortage of housing is particularly acute in the overpopulated Kingston Metropolitan Area where many environmental problems are concentrated. The HAJ claims that it has no money to do its job properly. It has been given a basket to carry water.

NEPA’s mission is to “promote sustainable development by ensuring protection of the environment”:  NEPA promo  If a proper balance is maintained between the priorities of NEPA and HAJ, housing solutions should not create environmental problems. But what happens when there’s a Beenie-Bounty clash between NEPA and HAJ?  Which agency is more powerful? And who referees the fight?NEPA appears to have the upper hand. Proposals from HAJ have to be reviewed by NEPA.

NEPA consults with a wide range of other agencies to inform its decisions: the Environmental Unit in the Ministry of Health, the National Works Agency, the Water Resources Authority, the Mines and Geology Division. On the basis of these consultations, NEPA makes recommendations to the Natural Resources Conservation Authority to either approve or turn down proposals from HAJ.

Backward PNP government

But all of this consulting can end up being nothing but a farce. Cabinet can completely disregard the recommendations of the various agencies and simply do as it pleases. This is precisely what happened when the environmentally backward People’s National Party (PNP) government, led by P.J. Patterson, shortsightedly approved the development of the Long Mountain Country Club – despite all warnings about the dangers it posed.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the scheme – pun intended – carefully outlined all of the risks: possible contamination of the Mona Reservoir and the four wells at the foot of Long Mountain; a 50 per cent increase in destructive surface run-off from the site, soil erosion that could clog National Water Commission pipes and drainage outlets, accumulated septic sewage that would produce quite a stench, traffic congestion in adjacent communities, on and on. But politics prevailed over both scientific evidence and common sense. The development was approved.

On top of that, the PNP government handed over to HAJ more than 200 acres of protected lands on Long Mountain. The agency is now planning to sell off approximately 30 acres, cut up into 54 lots, for a new ‘development’ just below the Country Club. This proposal is in the final stage of review, awaiting the outcome of NEPA’s deliberations.

HAJ expects to rake in approximately $800 million from the sale of the lots. At least $250 million of that will be spent on the infrastructure for the housing development. HAJ also plans to subtract a substantial percentage of the ‘windfall’ to fix the disastrous drainage and sewage problems that have leaked down from the Country Club.

The residents of both the Pines of Karachi and Beverly Hills have long been suffering from the very threats that the EIA identified a decade ago. Many homes in the Pines are regularly flooded with sewage. The main roads in Beverly Hills have become riverbeds because of the high volume of traffic and storm water coming from the Country Club. HAJ ought to rehabilitate these roads.

The agency should also rightfully assume responsibility for completing the approved access road for the Country Club that the developer just abandoned. With twisted logic, HAJ proposes to make money by adding to the environmental problems on Long Mountain. The agency will actually make a mess that it will have to turn around and fix. Where is the profit in this?

Former prime minister Patterson

The present minister of housing and water has the authority to right some of the environmental wrongs of the last PNP administration. No matter what the technocrats tell him, he ought to believe his own prophecy and veto the proposed development on Long Mountain.

He should also recommend that Cabinet reclaim the hundreds of acres so freely given to HAJ by the PNP and restore Long Mountain to green public space in perpetuity. The environment may very well become a hot election issue. If the JLP fails to show its true colours, orange might just prove to be the new green.

NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING AGENCY (NEPA) Misses The Mark

 When Beenie Man’s hit single “Sim Simma” (Who Am I) was released in Jamaica in 1998, the DJ soon found himself in a rather awkward position.  He had to keep on explaining that there was a crucial punctuation mark after ‘fellow’.

How can I make love to a fellow?

In a rush, pass mi the keys to my truck

Who am I?

The girls dem luck.

      ‘Wicked and bad mind’ detractors insisted that there was no question mark after ‘fellow.’  It came after ‘rush.’  According to them, Beenie Man was confessing that he didn’t mind making love to a fellow.  He just didn’t want to do it in a rush. The placement of the question sign made all the difference.

      Like Beenie Man, I must point out the fact that NEPA completely missed the punctuation mark in the headline of my column published on February 6, 2011: “NEPA In Bed With Developers?” I was asking an admittedly provocative question, not making a declaration.  In a letter to the editor dated February 18, 2011, NEPA goes to great lengths to refute a claim I did not make.

      I suspect that NEPA is protesting too much.  Furthermore, NEPA fails to adequately answer the question I do raise.  If all of what NEPA alleges in its letter to the editor is actually true, on what basis was the sale of housing lots on Long Mountain advertised on August 2, 2009 under the signature of the minister of housing and water, Dr. Horace Chang?

      NEPA claims the following:  “Professor Cooper wrote disparagingly of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and may have misled readers to believe that the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) Limited has obtained subdivision approval for lands ‘part of Mona, Papine Estates and Goldsmith Villa, St Andrew’.”

Selling government lands without approval?

      Let us suppose that it is, indeed, true that the HAJ has not yet obtained subdivision approval for the lands in question.   Can this statement by NEPA be reasonably interpreted to mean that the HAJ was offering for sale government lands without the approval of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), the agency to which NEPA reports on these matters?

      The answer to that pressing question is to be found in another statement made by NEPA in its letter to the editor:  “In June 2009, an enquiry application was also received from the Ministry of Water and Housing to subdivide 8.45 hectares of land into 60 service lots. NEPA responded within the month, advising that further processing of the application would require the comments of the National Works Agency (NWA) and the Mines and Geology Division (MGD).”

      So far so good.  But, as it turns out, by NEPA’s own account, the very agencies that have been set up to protect the environment appear to be failing to exercise due diligence. Without the benefit of even a minimal environmental site assessment, all of the government agencies cited below were prepared to give their approval to the subdivision.

      According to NEPA, “The subdivision application was circulated to a number of commenting agencies: the Environmental Health Unit – Ministry of Health, NWA, Water Resources Authority (WRA) and MGD. Comments were received from each agency, none of which objected to the subdivision of the land for housing with conditions for approval included, as is the customary practice.”

Pointing fingers

      NEPA is now pointing fingers, apparently claiming to be the lone voice of sanity in a wilderness of woeful bureaucratic slackness.  The agency reports that it was they who insisted that an environmental site assessment be done.

      It seems as if it is only because the Beverly Hills Citizens’ Association Benevolent Society (BHCABS) contested the dubious findings of that inadequate site assessment that NEPA further demanded that a much more elaborate environmental impact assessment be undertaken by the HAJ.  Up to now, that impact assessment has not been done.

      NEPA’s letter to the editor promises the following: “We can assure Professor Cooper and the BHCABS that their views will be incorporated in the deliberations leading to a final determination on this application.”

Proverbial wisdom warns that a promise is a comfort to a fool. Residents of Beverly Hills are not going to be fooled by empty words.

      In my column “NWC Killing Us Softly” (January 24, 2010), I quoted the findings of a rigorous environmental impact assessment done in 2000 that documented the probable negative impact of the construction of the Long Mountain Country Club.  A decade later, evidence of the accuracy of that assessment is plain to see.

      In the last flood rains brought on by tropical wave Nicole, water that should have sunk into the earth, feeding the aquifer, instead wastefully rushed down the hillside off the asphalted streets of the country club.  Huge boulders were dislodged which dangerously levelled a major retaining wall on Beverly Drive.  Several roads were washed out and some still have not yet been repaired.

Dr. St. Aubyn Bartlett, MP St. Andrew Eastern

      With other members the association, I accompanied ‘our’ MP, Dr. St. Aubyn Bartlett, on a tour of the most devastated areas.  He flatly refused to believe the report of residents that there had never ever been such large-scale flooding of Beverly Hills before the construction of the Long Mountain Country Club. Dr. Bartlett fully supports the HAJ’s foolhardy proposal to convert more protected government lands into house lots.

      Hopefully, the environmental impact assessment that NEPA has now demanded from the HAJ will reconfirm the findings of the 2000 assessment:  No further housing ‘development’ should be allowed on Long Mountain.  But why would it have taken a full decade for us to go right back to where we started?  Profit over principle?  Heaven deliver us from those government agencies that Never Ever Protect Anything!