Some things never change. DV
Agency rejects criticism
BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Environment editor email@example.com
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
THE National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has come in for yet more heavy criticism over its monitoring of the Historic Falmouth Port Development in Trelawny.
But NEPA has come out swinging, insisting that it has done all that was within its power to protect the environment.
A section of the Historic Falmouth Port Development in Trelawny. (Photo: Marlon Reid)
Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer for the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), is, however, not impressed. She said the environmental regulatory agency had failed to safeguard the historic town’s natural resources, notably the corals and wetlands, from the $7.5-billion development. And NEPA’s failure, she said, is reflected in the monitoring reports for the project.
“Using the Access to Information Act, JET has sought and received a large number of monitoring reports for Falmouth, done by at least four different sets of people — consultants, divers, NEPA officers. “They range from being professional and detailed with appropriate water quality tests and observations — these reports clearly and repeatedly describe the failures to handle the relocated coral properly and the “accidental” damage referred to by Ainsley Henry of NEPA — to reports of such brevity and lack of specificity as to be almost useless,” McCaulay told Environment Watch.
“There seems to be no co-ordination between all the various reports and they do not seem to lead to any kind of regulatory decision-making or effective action,” said McCaulay. “The breaches they describe include illegal removal of wetlands, insufficient dust control, non-functional silt screens, silt screens not deployed in the appropriate area, dredging beginning before corals were removed, silt plumes trailed across coral reefs, repeated failure to handle and relocate corals correctly, debris, and silt running off into the marine environment (as well as) the illegal dumping of sewage on land by vessels carrying out the work.”
The JET boss’ comments come in the wake of NEPA’s assertion that it had invested some $12 million to see to the effective monitoring of the $7.5-billion development.
Henry himself has challenged McCaulay’s statements.
“The statements about (the adequacy of NEPA’s efforts) are disingenuous at best. How much is enough? Recognising the scale of the project before us, the specific conditions mandated by NEPA resulted in monitoring being necessary at three levels — in addition to the regular monitoring capabilities of the agency,” he said.
“The contractors were required to monitor as a part of the contract from the PAJ (Port Authority of Jamaica); the PAJ was also required to perform monitoring independent of that conducted by the contractor; NEPA hired consultants to monitor; and teams from the agency’s permanent staff also supplemented this monitoring force. While it is accurate that there are assertions in some of the monitoring reports that would support some of those statements being made, it is flawed to assume that the entire story is evident as a consequence.”
Henry, the director of NEPA’s Applications Management Division, noted further that “During the course of the relocation of corals, the agency, through its monitoring teams, sought to ensure that due care was being taken with the handling of the corals being replanted and this was in fact evidenced by the regular briefing sessions that were conducted for the divers by the diving company that undertook the work”.
“Also, on every occasion that NEPA had divers in the water, this was an area to which particular attention was being paid. As a consequence, any infringement resulted in discussions with the diving company to modify behaviour/methods to ensure that the desired results would be achieved,” he told Environment Watch.
“The “accidental” damage that I referred to was as a consequence of a dislocated pipeline and grounding by a barge and not the handling of the corals. The Doc Centre at NEPA has a copy of each of the 11 monitoring reports produced by CL Environmental, which can be perused by the public. These reports all make reference to both the handling and corrective steps that were taken during the relocation,” Henry said.
“Action, and effective action at that, was therefore assured in each instance. Further, it must also be recognised that it was the monitoring activities that allowed for the detection of the “accidents” for which restitution has been required and is being implemented,” he added.
More than 145,000 pieces of coral have been relocated, in accordance with provisions to limit the impact on the environment, Henry told the Sunday Observer earlier this month.
“We have relocated all the corals that met the size class limitations that were in the impact footprint (the area affected by the project). The size class limitations in the permit were for all corals at five centimetres and above (to) be relocated, and there was a concession granted during the process for 10 centimetres and above to be relocated first,” he said at the time.
But the relocation is itself something with which JET and other conservationists have also taken issue.
“Relocation of some of the larger corals is considered a mitigation measure to coral reef destruction and this is what was supposed to be done in Falmouth. In fact, the success of coral reef replanting in general is by no means assured and there are many cases where it was completely failed. In the case of Falmouth, all corals over five centimetres in size were supposed to be removed. This was arbitrarily changed to all corals over 10 centimetres in size,” McCaulay said.
“The corals were supposed to be secured with a certain type of adhesive; this too was arbitrarily changed to cement. The corals were supposed to be relocated in specific areas before dredging some of the days divers went down to tag the corals for removal, the visibility was so poor from the dredging taking place that they had to abandon their efforts,” she added.
Henry has offered no guarantees concerning the survivability of the relocated corals, but said the relocation had been the best option.
“There are no guarantees that are possible. As with any other sessile organism, when moved they are subject to some stress and as a consequence some mortality is expected. Despite this however, the degree of mortality expected is still far less than that which would have occurred if the project had not been mandated to do the relocation,” he said.
“There is an ongoing monitoring component to the relocation works that will seek to determine the levels of survival over a five-year period and this will also help the agency to refine these processes. The relocation activities that were attempted at Rackham’s Cay in Kingston had served to teach us many lessons that were applied to Falmouth and that we believe served to enhance the activities that were done there and which ought to result in higher rates of survival,” he added.
McCaulay has also protested the use of corals, dead or alive, the dredge material being used for land reclamation in the historic town.
“Coral reefs do have a mixture of live and dead corals. A pristine coral reef would have live coral cover of between 50 and 70 per cent. A relatively healthy coral reef in Jamaican today would have live coral cover between 20 and 40 per cent because most of our reefs are somewhat to severely degraded. It is incorrect, however, to say that the dead coral is of no value and can be dredged and used as fill on land without there being any effect on the marine environment,” the JET boss said.
“A coral reef is a community of plants and animals interacting with each other — the parts of the reef that are dead still provide habitat for a range of organisms. Dredging of a reef, both its live coral and its dead coral on which the live coral attaches and grows, destroys the entire reef structure, plain and simple, and NEPA knows or should know this,” she added.
To this Henry said that the dead corals being used for land reclamation were those that formed a part of the “dredge spoil”.
“At no point did I suggest that only live corals serve an ecological function and in fact I was at pains to point out that it was in recognition of this fact that the agency mandated that artificial reef “superstructures” be included as a part of the mitigation,” he said.
“The dead corals that were used in the development works are those portions that would have been dredge spoil, that is, material that would have otherwise been dumped. The agency is by no means suggesting that it is acceptable to use corals as fill material under ordinary circumstances,” Henry added.
JET is, nonetheless, insistent that NEPA has not adequately done its work.
“Despite the many breaches, the only recorded responses from NEPA were verbal and written warnings — paperwork, in other words. The natural resources NEPA is supposed to protect were simply a casualty of the construction work and that for NEPA was the end of the matter… (The project) has devastated a functioning, reasonably healthy coral reef, destroyed 40 hectares of functioning wetlands and will remove over 20 hectares of reasonably healthy seagrass beds,” McCaulay said.
“NEPA’s extravagant promises of the permit conditions being strictly enforced were broken and many permit conditions were breached without meaningful sanctions. The effects on the town of Falmouth and the success of the environmental mitigation measures can only be evaluated in the future, but even were they to be miraculously successful, the fact still remains that Falmouth has lost a significant portion of its natural resources because of this cruise ship pier,” she added.
Henry contends that NEPA has done its job.
“Throughout the project the agency utilised many of the tools in our compliance arsenal to encourage compliance — several stop orders were issued, modifications of processes ordered, additional mitigation and restitution negotiated and implemented, all of which were “legal”,” he told Environment Watch.
“The agency does not view the “court” as the only mechanism to achieve desired results and in the interest of the protection of the environment viewed the immediate modification of the activities/situation on the ground as preferable to engaging in a protracted and slow court proceeding. It must be highlighted that in each instance where there was an injurious activity identified, it was brought to a stop quickly and hence prevented further damage from occurring,” Henry added.