‘Not enough money’

Consultants say integrated approach for Negril costly

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

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NEGRIL, Westmoreland — CEAC Solutions Ltd, the company that designed the two near-shore breakwaters that are planned for Negril, has revealed that financial considerations were at the heart of its decision to veer from the previously proposed integrated solution incorporating breakwater structures as well as beach nourishment.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has reported that more than 60 metres of the famous Negril shoreline has been lost in the past 45 years.

Both Government and stakeholders within the hotel and tourism sectors have over the years tried to stem the rate of erosion, with the hoteliers commissioning a study in 2007 that recommended that a combination of approaches be adopted.

But at a public consultation with residents and stakeholders of Negril in the resort town last Tuesday, CEAC's Jessica Stewart explained that the integrated approach cost too much.

"We modified this integrated solution in 2013 because of budget constraints to focus on the most critical areas of the shoreline," she said.

CEAC Solutions Ltd is a Caribbean consulting firm that specialises in civil, environmental and coastal engineering and planning. Stewart's presentation Tuesday was specific to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) the company presented to the Government for the project.

Stewart said that in 2012, the Jamaica Hoteliers and Tourist Association, the Jamaica Tourist Board, Couples Resorts and other hotels mostly supported the proposal to implement an integrated solution. That solution included the construction of nine breakwaters, some at about 1.5km offshore and others closer shore, as well as beach nourishment for the most threatened 30 metres on Long Bay and another 20 metres for Bloody Bay.

But she said the project was downgraded from the US$21 million - US$28 million combination of breakwater and beach nourishment solution to the much cheaper US$5.6 million breakwater-only fix.

"And we decided to implement two breakwater solutions and this will have the breakwater being 400m long and the other 590m long at 1.3 km offshore in three-four metres depth of water," she said.

"The solution would protect 2,000-2,500m (of shoreline)," added Stewart.

The CEAC representative told the gathering that the breakwaters are expected to reduce, and in some cases reverse shoreline erosion, which she said is as a result of climate change and the accompanying sea level rise.

Hoteliers and residents have raised concerns that boulders from the structures could be flung from the sea and onto their properties during turbulent weather but NEPA countered that the model as designed by CEAC has been tested and endorsed by the University of Delaware's Center for Applied Coastal Research (CACR) Ocean Engineering Laboratory.

"The centre is confident the design will withstand major one-in-100-year storm events and has also concluded that the structures will be climate resilient as the design takes into consideration changes in wave climate and increased water levels," a previously released staemet from NEPA said.

President of Couples Resorts Lee Issa remains unconvinced. He said no one is certain if the breakwater method, which is irreversible, will work and that he preferred the beach nourishment method, which is more environmentally friendly.

"There are a lot of questions, and it (breakwater) is a big gamble and it is irreversible, so I say take the course which is more environmentally friendly. It is a soft solution and that is beach nourishment," Issa told the Jamaica Observer following the meeting.

He argued, too, that beach replenishment was sustainable.

"If everybody, from the river (Negril South River) all the way up to Hedonism II, got 90 feet of beach (from the nourishment project), and we are losing two feet of beach every year, that means it would take 45 years for us to lose that nourishment that we put on the beach where it would bring it back to where we were before we started the project, so there is sustainability in beach nourishment," he maintained.

CEO of the Jamaica Environmental Trust Diana McCaulay was of a similar opinion.

"When you are talking about these technical engineering things and if you get three or four engineers in the room together, you will get three or four slightly different opinions. So, it is difficult for a lay person to fully evaluate all the very fine points that they make, but the thing about the breakwater is that these are hard structures; they are permanent and if they don't work, there's going to be no going back," McCaulay told the Jamaica Observer.

She added: "My opinion is that the problems in Negril have been well described over many years, and it is those problems that we should seek to fix that include restoring the mangroves and sea grasses that were taken out, fixing the water quality issues so that the coral reefs can come back and restoring the drainage between the morass and the beach."

McCaulay said taking the approach of beach nourishment would buy some time to correct all these problems as all cannot be done overnight.

The controversial breakwater project, which was proposed by NEPA, is being financed under the Global Adaptation Fund, and is being implemented by the Planning Institute of Jamaica. The project has been contracted to the National Works Agency (NWA).

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