Business

Gov't admits Goat Islands under 'serious consideration' for trans-shipment hub

Prepares for battle with environmentalists

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 22, 2013    

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BEIJING, China — Government may face a tough battle against environmentalists and time as it explores the possibility of constructing a trans-shipment hub at Goat Islands, located off the south coast of St Catherine.

Minister of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill revealed that the site was "now under very serious consideration" to facilitate the much talked about project, as he and a team of officials, including Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, met with representatives of China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) during a lunch meeting at the state-owned firm's headquarters in Beijing yesterday. Simpson Miller and her team is on a five-day visit to the Asian country.

The development comes four months after CHEC — which last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Port Authority to explore the feasibility of establishing a new trans-shipment port at Fort Augusta — rejected that location as it was not big enough to provide the space they needed.

CHEC wants some 3,000 acres of land to build the port. It had showed interest in Goat Islands before, but looked elsewhere when met with environment restrictions. Lobby groups have argued that the Goat Islands are important for biodiversity, with a vision of the area being developed into a reserve for iguanas and other threatened species.

"They (China Harbour) looked at the Goat Islands area and are attracted to it, but truth be told there are some environmental prohibition as we speak," Pickersgill told journalists.

In fact, environmental groups this week — apparently getting wind of Government's intentions — came out forcefully against the move.

According to the Jamaica Environment Trust and the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation — which manages the Portland Bight Protected Area — a large-scale port development will have devastating impacts on the coastal environment adjacent to and including the Goat Islands.

"These impacts include destruction of mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, opening up access to currently inaccessible areas on land leading to further degradation of the ancient dry limestone forest of the Hellshire Hills," they said in a joint press release, reiterating that any port development and associated infrastructure would have a major adverse impact on the ecology of the Portland Bight Protected Area.

But at yesterday's meeting, CHEC assured Simpson Miller that it is committed to environmental protection and social responsibility as it looks to expand its footprint in Jamaica.

"Jamaica is a major target market for CHEC and we hope Jamaica can provide us with a platform to continue and expand our collaboration to larger levels," said Liu Quitaio, president of CHEC parent company China Communications Construction.

CHEC is behind numerous infrastructure works in Jamaica, including the recently concluded Palisadoes Shoreline Protection Project and the North South link of Highway 2000.

Simpson Miller highlighted that any future collaboration would be a "win-win" situation for both Jamaica and CHEC.

"There are investment opportunities in Jamaica at this time and I hope you will give favourable consideration to other investments in Jamaica," she told Liu.

Simpson Miller has said previously that the final location for the logistics hub project will be a direct investment of CHEC and its parent company.

The preliminary estimates of the mega investment are between US$1.2 billion and US$1.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Pickersgill told journalists that time is of essence.

"There are competing interests and they are not waiting on us," Pickersgill said, reiterating that the Government is aiming for the hub to become operational in 2015 to coincide with the reopening of the Panama Canal.

"I expect that the environmentalists will be defending what now exists and the development ministry and the Government will have to say to the country what it is we will be foregoing and why, because the employment opportunities are very much there," he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Carlton Davis, special envoy and chief advisor, noted that "there is no perfect universe, it is how you can balance and use engineering to correct things".

"At the end of the day, if a project promises to employ 10,000 people, not to mention on an economic value added, you can't just simply lose it," he added.

According to the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, the logistics hub is a multi-dimensional project that will include "clusters of global businesses operating from special economic zones, technology parks, logistics parks and industrial parks".

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