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.

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