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Why the Goat Islands are not the best location for the touted fourth World-Class Logistics Hub

BY Howard Chin

Sunday, January 26, 2014    

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I recently did some investigations regarding the Jamaica Logistics Hub, as proposed by the Chinese and swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the Government.

My investigations involved getting customised and some very old maps of Clarendon and St Dorothy Plain from the Survey Department of the National Land Agency. The maps required took them about two weeks to prepare, and when I asked if anyone else in recent years had requested similar information, I was told nobody had.

So, I might reasonably deduce that neither the Chinese nor the Government, or even Conrad Douglas have similar survey maps which would be necessary for preliminary designs. I find this to be quite interesting.

I examined maps of the lands of St Catherine adjacent to the Goat Islands and the Goat Islands themselves. The first thing that became apparent was that access was restricted and would have to be either most directly one mile (1.6 km) across Galleon Harbour, coming ashore at Willikins Estate and going about 2.4 miles north to connect with the railway, or, south-east to the nearest land, then northwards towards the railway, a total of 7.5 miles, five of which is classified as "marsh", "swamp" and "mud".

At a Caribbean Maritime Institute and University of the West Indies seminar titled 'The Logistics Hub: The Economy vs The Environment' held on November 9, 2013, it was reported that the size of the proposed Chinese facility is 3,000 acres.

Trying to get this area at Great Goat Island involves dynamiting and pushing much of the 316 ft high (at the peak) island into the sea, similar to Subic Bay in The Phillippines where an entire mountain was thrown into the bay.

The resultant area, planted on the mud of the bay and the remnants of the Goat Islands would be about 1,500 acres or a half of the area required. More area could be reclaimed from the sea, but at considerable cost, and being located at the mouth of the low-flow Salt Island creek, would be on top of the soft sediments washed down over the millennia, prone to settlement and liquefaction in the event of an earthquake.

More recently, after the Government Logistics Hub Symposium on January 20 and 21, 2014, Gordon Shirley of the Port Authority of Jamaica was reported as saying that the area of the proposed port was reduced to 600 acres and involves both the Goat Islands and lands on shore to the north.

This is impossible, because Great Goat Island alone is about one square mile, which is 640 acres. As well, both it, and I suppose, the multitudes of associated, yet to materialise, businesses are supposed to employ 10,000 people. With the build-out of the port and facilities yet to occur, and doubtful investors yet to be enticed into establishing businesses in the logistics hub, these jobs would realistically begin to come into existence at least three years or more into the future.

Since it would be unwise to block the outlet of the river, a bridge about a mile long is essential for access to the island port, even by the shortest route. This has to carry the railway (if used) and at least a two-lane roadway, if the type of operations described at the previously mentioned presentations were to occur.

The road and rail bridge across the sea would have to be built on top of piles sufficiently high out of the water to let the highest design storm surge pass under, or they would risk losing the bridge.

The roadway traversing the swamp would have to be a floating one, prone to settlement over time, and takes no account of sea level rise due to global warming (Minister Pickersgill should advise them) which should submerge this area later this century, and be susceptible to storm surge damage during hurricanes.

In fact, the roadway and railway would most likely be impassable and the Goat Island facility would be cut off from the rest of Jamaica until they could be repaired. Similarly, access routes built over a swamp would be disrupted by an earthquake, and we're due for a big one, as the UWI's Earthquake Unit and ODPEM have been telling us.

In the event of a hurricane, the port might become inoperative for an extended period of time if the road, power and rail bridge were to be damaged, unless it were to be completely self-contained, with a desalination plant, waste water plant and its own power plant. But those facilities would take up the clearly valuable port area on the islands.

Not exactly the best situation for what is supposed to be a Logistics Hub which should be built to resist what nature can throw at it and keep operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If Jamaica has ambitions of becoming the fourth World-Class Logistics Hub, why on earth would you pick a location (the Goat Islands) with limited space to grow, with the sea, swamps and marshes between it and the mainland?

Compare the Dubai Logistics Corridor where everything -- the sixth largest container port in the world, Jebel Ali Port; Jafza hosting 6,500 companies from around the world; and Dubai World Central, which includes Al Maktoum International Airport, said to be the world's largest airport in size and volume -- is stuffed into an area of 200 sq km (an area equal to a square 8.5 miles on a side).

Dubai, the most recent of the World-Class Logistics Hubs, has recognised the importance of air freight by building the world's largest airport into its hub.

At the recent presentations at the UWI, Steve Robinson (American global supply chain management expert), and Dr Eric Deans (chairman, Logistics and Investment Task Force, Ministry of Indusrty, Investment and Commerce) described the operations of logistics hubs, emphasising the speed of operation, eg time from port to manufacturing facility to airport which could be measured in hours. The concept of 'Jamaica time' would not be acceptable.

This would require that many of the hub facilities be beside each other. Indeed, photographs of exemplary hubs shown to us had the processing facilities backed right onto the port, including one with a seven-storey container storage adjacent to the port. The statement by, I think it was Dr Paul Robertson, that the port should be on an island runs counter to this, and Rotterdam, Singapore and Dubai would seem to further confirm that it should not be on an island.

Professor Gordon Shirley showed, among the slides in his presentation, a transshipment port on the Goat Islands with an inland shaded area to the north. This seems to be the proposal, and he said as much at the Port Authority of Jamaica presentation.

Environmentally, of course, this location is a protected area, established by the Government of Jamaica, with fish sanctuaries, etc. Arguments have been put forward by persons who should know better, such as Parris Lyew-Ayee Jnr, Conrad Douglas, etc that the area is already being degraded by the dynamiting of fish, overfishing, sugar factory dunder, agricultural runoff, etc, so, go ahead and build a port.

However, these people have conveniently neglected the fact that these problems are the result of lack of enforcement of the laws of Jamaica, and the dishonouring of agreements with Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, the body that is tasked with protecting the Portland Bight Protected Area, by various arms of the Government of Jamaica. Their argument is defeated simply by pointing this out.

At 18 miles from Vernam Field, and further from Norman Manley International Airport, the Goat Islands facility is not looking like a World-Class Logistics Hub.

With a reported area of 3,000 acres last year and now only 600 acres, as stated by Gordon Shirley, on an offshore island, surrounded by mangrove swamps, without reliable year-round surface or underground water sources in the area for provisioning ships, likely to be disconnected from the mainland in the event of an earthquake or hurricane, it is definitely not a logistics hub port in the proper sense.

So, what is it?

Perhaps we should look this gift horse in the mouth?

We do not have the long (40 km, about 24 miles) riverside berthing or industrial power of Rotterdam. We do not have the high-tech industrial power and manpower of Singapore, or the small area of the Dubai Logistics Corridor stuffed with goodies.

Land, sea and air connectivity is what it's all about, as I'm sure His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed al Maktoum, president of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and president of Dubai Aviation City Corporation, could tell the Government. Notice the 'Aviation City' in the name?

As I suggested a few months ago, McCarry Bay might be a good spot for a logistics hub. A good point in its favour is that it is not in an environmentally protected area, although the most stringent environmental law enforcement should be applied. In fact, it looks even better on a second look with more information.

Why?

Air [Vernam Field International Airport (VFIA), I'd really hate to see it with a politician's name]

* The centre of Vernam Field airfield is only five miles from the proposed port. The proposed control tower is even closer, and the sun doesn't blind the controllers in the tower when viewing the entire airport.

* A (17.5 million sq ft) terminal, plus warehousing and manufacturing facilities, area could be placed to the north-east on relatively flat ground, without dropping into a gully, or obstructing the clear view of the entire airport by the control tower. Millions of sq ft to the north-west could be used also, but were not included in the 17.5 million.

* Two of the runways can be lengthened to 12,000 ft without running over Gimme Me Bit (and running into a gully) and one could be lengthened to 10,000 ft. Mind you, you'd have to relocate the North-South runway 1,000 ft to the east to get the full 12,000 ft, which is more than the biggest commercial aeroplane, the A380F (freighter), would likely need. Also, there's plenty of space to widen all of them to 200 ft.

Land

* The railway from the north to Rocky Point would only need to be extended by less than one mile to connect to the proposed airport terminal, and from there to the sea, less than eight miles. It's a bit longer than a straight line, but you have to make a little detour around the ends of the runways.

* I'm told by other engineers that the railway to and from the Port of Kingston should be dualised. I think that's a really good idea. That might fall foul of the Highway 2000 contract, however, because it would increase the capacity and would co-incidentally improve the connectivity to Portmore and Spanish Town to Kingston. Bad planning, if you ask me.

* A connection to the highway system could be made to the west of May Pen to allow high-speed traffic alongside the railway to utilise gentle slopes of the railway to the Vernam Field International Airport and Port McCarry.

If you've driven along Highway 2000 this strategy becomes apparent, as you can see the rails by the side, just over the fence as you drive along.

Sea

* A Port McCarry with 2.5 miles of berths, 3,000 acres of port facilities, with over twice that currently unpopulated (See Google Earth) area available, would be more than enough space for later expansion, with proper planning, which we are frequently noted for not doing.

* It could have the railway running right down the middle of the port from the north-north-east -- a good thing, I am told by port design engineers. Maybe you could toss in a few spur lines for good measure.

* The port would be located on pretty flat, reasonably stable high ground, so it would not be knocked for six by sea level rise or storm surge or tsunami (hopefully not too big), as would the Goat Islands facility.

* For provisioning the ships there's surface and sub-surface water available, as compared to the lands onshore from Goat Islands where it's a scarce commodity. The Water Resources Authority would have to be consulted for the preliminary design of the port.

* Establishing Port McCarry would be more of a bulldozer type operation rather than dynamiting and throwing an island into the sea, and building a road and rail bridge more than a mile long over the sea.

* This port would, however, require more dredging and a bit more extensive breakwaters as I've been told by engineers who design ports, but you'd be doing it for the long run and a superior logistics hub, to the real benefit of Jamaica.

— Howard Chin is a mechanical engineer and a member of the Jamaica Institution of Engineers

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