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”.
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.
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.”
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?
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!