FOR the next five months at least, no development can take place at the Blue Lagoon in Portland — including the hotly debated Pellew Island project — as steps are taken to have the area declared a national monument.
"The JNHT (Jamaica National Heritage Trust) Act is the act under which we operate and section 12 of the act says that from time to time we can declare a national monument, any structure the preservation of which, is, in the opinion of the trust, a matter of public interest by reason of its historic, architectural, traditional, artistic, aesthetic, scientific, or its archaeological interest... We have decided that we are going to declare the Blue Lagoon one such national monument. That is why we have served the preservation notice and this notice is for six months," Debbie Ann Kerr-Scott, legal officer with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, told Environment Watch in December.
"Basically, nothing can be done to the Blue Lagoon within that period. And after the six months, then we will move on to declaring the Blue Lagoon as a national monument. When we declare it, we will put a draft of the proposed declaration and this will be published in the gazette and once in the daily newspaper," she added.
Last month, then minister with portfolio responsibility for public service and information, Arthur Williams, broke the news that the lagoon, also known as Blue Hole, which covers an area of 14,066.68 metres square, would be declared a national monument. And he noted at the time that Cabinet had approved the introduction of a preservation notice for a period of six months "to allow the National Heritage Trust to do all that is necessary to declare it a national monument".
According to the notice, dated December 5, 2011, "the Jamaica National Heritage Trust may authorise any person to inspect the Blue Lagoon and so?? such acts as may (be) required for the maintainance thereof".
The notice also said that "except with written consent, this structure shall not be demolished or removed, no additions or alterations shall be made to this structure, nor shall any work be carried out in connection with such additions or alterations".
Environmental lobbyists have welcomed the news.
"I absolutely support that; I think we should have more of our treasures protected and ensure that they are preserved," noted Robert Stephens, chairman of the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust.
Wendy Lee, executive director of Northern Jamaica Conservation Association, said it is a step in the right direction.
"It's good; it is positive news," she said. "However, it raises the question of how do we get national monuments declared in this country? Is it as a result of a process — a planning process with public consultation and ecological assessment, social assessment? Or is it because they are just reacting to fuss kicked up to a particular threat?"
She said it was past time that Jamaica got to the place where national assets are preserved based on their intrinsic value.
"It always seems to me that NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and civil society have to make some kind of protest over a threat to an asset before any attention is paid to protecting it. At this time in our history, we should have a situation where areas of significance which have been identified get special treatment in a development application process. They should be things that are ruled out as a matter of course," Lee insisted.
The JNHT has suggested that the Blue Lagoon is one example of the authorities taking the lead.
"I think the Blue Lagoon has been on the radar for some time... This has been something going for some time now... As far back as 1960, Premier Norman Manley made a submission on the future of the Blue Hole," said Kerr-Scott. "He wanted for them to consider what steps to protect the public right to access, and preserving the general character of the surroundings. And as far back is as in 1961, the (then) Ministry of Welfare and Culture had posted an interim preservation notice on the site, and so that preservation notice would sort of prohibit any wilful destruction of trees."
"In the 1990s, the JNHT really started the steps to declare the site a national monument, but the process was suspended, and so quite recently now, in 2010, we started pushing forward to have it declared a protected area," the trust's legal officer added.
However, ahead of their efforts being made public in December, the Blue Lagoon was hot news as environmentalists criticised the creation of a beach at the site — an area they have maintained should remain unspoiled by any development.
Meanwhile, the next six months are to see JNHT taking all the necessary steps to have the area so declared.
"Where the minister serves a preservation notice, the notice is to remain in force for that six months. And so it will really give us enough time to do all that we have to do. We have stakeholders that we will have to meet with them... This six months will allow us to meet and finalise everything that we need to do," Kerr-Scott said.
She noted, however, that the notice could be revoked, but that there were specific conditions under which this could be done. For example, if the landowner is able "to prove that he (or she) is likely to suffer any financial loss if the notice is not revoked".