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PIOJ says poor communication the cause of Negril breakwater project impasse

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor — features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2014    

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) said yesterday that it has no intention of deviating from the controversial plan to build two concrete breakwaters just off the Negril shore as a means of slowing down the rate of beach erosion in the popular resort town.

The agency has, however, accepted responsibility for what it says was a breakdown in the consultation and communication processes between itself and stakeholders in the community who include owners and operators of large and medium-sized hotels.

The project, which is being financed under the global Adaptation Fund, was proposed by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and is being implemented by the PIOJ. The National Works Agency is the contractor.

Negril stakeholders have repeatedly voiced opposition to the project, starting with a press conference in Kingston two months ago. They argue that in addition to being unsightly, the breakwaters pose a potential threat to their properties because boulders can become loose and be hurled from the sea during storm events. In addition, they contend that beach nourishment, in conjunction with a rehabilitation of the Great Morass, will be more environmentally sustainable. On top of that, they maintain that there was no consultation.

Yesterday, the PIOJ responded publicly for the first time. In between sessions at the Climate Investment Fund Partnership Forum at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, deputy director general of sustainable development and social planning Claire Bernard told the Jamaica Observer that the impasse was regrettable.

"The misunderstanding is really, really very unfortunate," she said.

"I am fully aware that consultations, perhaps not the type of consultation that people will want to have done, were done... I accept full responsibility that we did not keep going back to the community, but we consulted them, had their approval and we adjusted the approval based on their recommendations," Bernard said, explaining that a Negril-based non-governmental organisation was tasked with organising a consultation meeting.

She explained further that it was the Negril stakeholders themselves who approached the Government for assistance with the erosion "some time ago" and that several steps have been taken to address it over the years to include planting seagrass beds, putting in artificial reefs, nourishing the beach and doing analytical work to map the changes in the shoreline over a 40-year period.

"So we thought that, in trying to develop some kind of synergy between the various projects and to address the problems in Negril -- we can't do everything at once -- as the projects become available, we direct them to Negril," she said, explaining the rationale for going ahead with the NEPA breakwater proposal.

To abandon the plan at this stage, to reflect suggestions being made by the stakeholders, Bernard said, would essentially mean forfeiting the US$5.4 million earmarked for the project.

"Any change that goes beyond 10 per cent of the value of the programme has to be resubmitted to the board for consideration. For the Negril project, that means US$5.4 of (the total) US$10 million. That is way above 10 per cent, so if we were to try to make changes to the scope of the project we would have to go back to the board," she told the Observer.

"Essentially, we would risk losing the money because there would be no guarantee that it would be approved," Bernard added.

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