“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.
According 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
Just 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.
The $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.”
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
The 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.
The 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!
All 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.”