Tue | Oct 19, 2021

We did not determine the area to be quarried

Published:Thursday | April 15, 2021 | 12:05 AM


As the former executive director of Northern Jamaica Conservation Association (NJCA), I am responding to Abe Dabdoub’s letter published on April 12, 2021.

First, let us be clear that Bengal Development’s application was refused an environmental permit by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) for several reasons, including these: the project was contrary to, and not in keeping with, the St Ann Confirmed Development Order; it proposed establishing a quarry in an area that is not a quarry zone; it would have a deleterious effect on the environment in general and public health; and that the loss of unique biodiversity and natural resources would be irreplaceable.

The subsequent granting of the permit was the result of the Honourable Prime Minister (PM) exercising his ministerial power, thereby overruling the technical assessment and allowing Bengal’s appeal. For the record, the court action is not about the constitutionality of the PM’s decision to grant the permit: it is about the likely impacts of this project on the constitutional rights of Jamaicans to the protection of their ecological heritage and their health.

The Dry Harbour quarry project has been opposed by almost all local stakeholders, including residents and tourism interests, from its inception. There is broad consensus among the scientific and environmental community that the area should be declared protected.

I categorically deny that “local stakeholders (including environmental groups and NGOs) worked with the National Environment and Planning Agency to determine and agree to the area that should be quarried for this site.” Two environmental NGOs, NJCA and Jamaica Environment Trust, attended just one meeting with NEPA in 2010 regarding an earlier application, and clearly stated the position that opening up even a small part of the area to mining would pose a threat to the rest of the forest. We affirmed the absolute and unified opposition of residents of the area to any quarrying or crushing plant in the area, as a result of the total failure of past operations to mitigate mining impacts.

Decision-makers should be fully apprised of the costs and benefits of major projects, including their economic viability. Mr Dabdoub referred to the original revenue projections of the project, which would undoubtedly need revising downwards in light of the permit conditions imposed by the NRCA. Furthermore, the environmental impact assessment for Bengal’s project estimated a total workforce of 50-100 employees, not “hundreds” as he claims.

A performance bond demonstrates financial stability of the developer and is a standard requirement of most large projects. The NRCA’s decision not to extend the payment deadline should send a positive message to foreign investors that accountability and good governance are important.

What we should all be able to agree on is that investment, whether local or foreign, must be appropriate to the site and community, and compliant with laws to protect the environment and public health.