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Calm, rational discussion needed on Dry Harbour Mountain dispute

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Jamaica is now engaged in a fresh round of debate about the benefits of development versus preservation of the environment — a natural process as societies embrace the need for sustainable economic improvement.

These debates, as we have pointed out myriad times, are always heated because positions are hardened on both sides.

Only time will tell if successive governments have made the correct decisions in cases where they have gone ahead with projects against the protestations of environmental advocates.

We have no doubt, though, that both sides have the country's interest at heart — one seeing the creation of jobs and infrastructural modernisation; the other focused on protecting our environment and preventing further damage from natural disasters, especially tropical storms and earthquakes. Add to those the impact of global warming and we are in the lane of increased vulnerability.

The latest brouhaha has been triggered by the Government's decision to approve a licence to Bengal Development Limited/Jamaica World LLC to engage in mining and quarrying at Dry Harbour Mountain in Discovery Bay, St Ann.

This was against the advice of the State's environmental regulators — National Environment and Planning Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Authority, both of which had denied Bengal's application.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness last week mounted a strong defence of his decision, citing the need for increased business investment, given the devastating blow to the country's economy delivered by COVID-19.

Mr Holness said there are people who would want to shape the Government in a narrative that it does not seek to protect the country's environmental assets. He reminded the public that it was his Government that put an end to the Goat Islands project, which was being entertained by the previous Administration with the promise of bringing immense economic gain to the country.

“We chose the environment over that,” Mr Holness said.

If Mr Holness wishes to take a bow for that, well, he should go right ahead. However, turning down the Goat Islands project is not the ultimate demonstration of commitment to environmental preservation.

To be fair to the current Government, it has made steps and supported policies designed to ensure environmental protection. Readers will also recall that in 2017 Jamaica ratified the Paris Agreement which is aimed at strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change.

While we understand the economic argument advanced by the prime minister, we can't ignore the fact that the State had to impose more than 70 conditions on Bengal in order for the company to mine the area.

Mr Holness has said that mining is only being permitted on 20 per cent of the land that has already been disturbed by previous mining activity. The remaining 80 per cent of the 572 acres, he said, would continue to be untouched and form part of the forested cluster in the parish.

Both sides in this dispute, we believe, could achieve much by calming down and having a rational discussion on the issue. At that point, the Government needs to tell the country how it would ensure that the company abides by the conditions of the permit.