Bernard Lodge battle looms - Opposition warns that it could move to derail proposed massive development
Member of Parliament for South St Catherine Fitz Jackson is warning that the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) will use its political muscle in Portmore, St Catherine, to block the planned massive development being proposed by the Government for the 4,000 acres of lands at Bernard Lodge.
The Government has indicated that it intends to facilitate the construction of 17,000 houses, light manufacturing plants and agro-processing facilities on the Bernard Lodge lands, but Jackson says the parliamentary Opposition is adamant that certain conditions will have to be met if it is to give its support.
"I am cautioning the Govern-ment and the prime minister about how they proceed in the disposal of these lands because we, the political representatives in Portmore, will not sit idly by. We will take all necessary steps to block any action that we believe is not in the interest of Portmore," said Jackson, in whose constituency much of the Bernard Lodge lands fall.
According to Jackson, the Opposition's concern is largely related to the ecologically fragile nature of the area and the potential for irreparable harm to the environment, in particular its impact on water resources.
He said the Opposition is also peeved that the lands are already being sold to "big interests" with no buy-in from, or consultation with, residents and business interests in Portmore.
"I'm concerned that the Government has already proceeded to sell parcels of the land in the proposed development in a preselected way, which compromises transparency in the disposal of government property," Jackson told The Sunday Gleaner.
He charged that there was "no adequate consideration for the participation of Portmore residents and business interests who have, over the years, expressed a desire to invest in these lands, but were prohibited by NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) on the basis that the aquifers in that area need to be preserved".
Jackson also accused NEPA of changing its previous position that no development on the proposed scale should be undertaken on the land.
"I consider it totally unacceptable that NEPA, having changed its position, did so in a kind of secret, clandestine way to facilitate the development proposal that the Government has put on the table," said Jackson.
He noted that the Bernard Lodge lands is home to the aquifers that provide water to Portmore and the wider St Catherine plains.
Jackson said in the best of times, Portmore suffers from an acute shortage of water, with residents lamenting that scarcely a week goes by without them experiencing water lock-offs or low water pressure.
"I realise the National Water Commission (NWC) has remained quiet on the matter since it was announced," charged Jackson.
The PNP chairman said he will be working with Mayor of Portmore Leon Thomas to host a series of stakeholder meetings to properly inform residents of the Government's decisions and the approach that should be taken.
He argued that this consultation should have taken place before the development has reached the stage that it has.
Jackson noted that Prime Minister Andrew Holness invited him to a meeting at Jamaica House in early May with other political representatives to discuss the issues surrounding the proposed development but his concerns were not allayed.
"The difficulty I am having, and I said this to the prime minister and others in the meeting, is that the existing Portmore, Greater Portmore, and the older Portmore - have some structural inadequacies as a result of the unplanned developments that have taken place in the past.
"This proposed development with a large component of houses will undoubtedly have further impact on the existing area, as Greater Portmore has on the older Portmore," said Jackson.
"My (other) major concern relates to roadway adequacy and the water supply. ... That concern is further compounded by those raised by Mr Basil Fernandez (former head of the Water Resources Authority) who, as I said in the meeting with the prime minister, is Jamaica's dean on underground water supply systems.
"This conveys to me that the Government is getting ahead of itself when it is proposing a major development of the sort without any reference at all to those issues raised by Mr Fernandez," added Jackson, as he pointed to an article written by Fernandez and published in The Gleaner on April 22 under the headline 'Water reality may drown Bernard Lodge city plan'.