Goat Islands not best choice

Study points to cheaper, less damaging options that exist for proposed transshipment port

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

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AN international study conducted by companies in the United Kingdom and the United States has concluded that there are cheaper and less environmentally damaging alternatives to Goat Islands for the location of the transshipment port that China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is proposing to build as part of the Government's logistics hub.


The study, carried out by California-based Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF) and Niras-Fraenkel Ltd in the UK, has found that a port at Macarry Bay in southern Clarendon would cost US$200 million less than it would at Goat Islands, and would be less prone to storm surges.


"Our study shows that building this port on Goat Island is not the best choice either environmentally or financially," said Aaron Bruner, senior economist at CSF, an NGO that promotes conservation solutions powered by economics. "Building at alternative sites nearby could both save millions of dollars and avoid irreparable environmental damage."


Bruner, the lead consultant for the economic valuation aspect of the study, was addressing a group of politicians and NGOs at the Courtleigh Hotel yesterday.


In terms of environmental damage, CSF said a port at Goat Islands would cost at least three times more than equivalent construction at another site. It did not factor in damage to the landscape and irreparable loss of habitats for globally threatened species, but a qualitative assessment showed that these would also be far worse at Goat Islands, .


The engineering portion of the study was undertaken by leading name in port and marine engineering consultancy Niras-Fraenkel.


In addition to Macarry Bay, the company examined three sites that could potentially meet CHEC's requirements -- Goat Islands, Kingston Harbour and Bowden in St Thomas. Macarry Bay was found to offer the most directly comparable design, including a more efficient layout for transshipment.


"The discussion of the appropriateness of Goat Islands as the site for the proposed port and logistics hub has often degenerated into 'Iguanas versus development on the basis of very little information'," said Nicole Brown of CANARI and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) who chaired the session.


"That's why CEPF and Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (CCAM) asked CSF to determine whether other sites might be competitive economically and have less environmental impacts."


CSF concluded that while there are no perfect sites, there are very likely good alternatives to building on Goat Islands.


"True 'win-win' scenarios like this are rare," Bruner said. "We are very happy to be able to share these findings with decision-makers in Jamaica, and hope that building on Goat Islands will be reconsidered in light of appropriately detailed analysis of alternative sites."


The contention over Goat Islands stems from the fact that it falls within the Portland Bight Protected Area, which enjoys local and international protection and recognition as a biodiversity hotspot in Jamaica. It has a host of endemic species, including the famed Jamaican iguana, and has been designated a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.


C-CAM has been working to promote conservation of the Portland Bight Protected Area since 1998.


Executive director of CCAM and chairman of the Clarendon Parish Development Committee Ingrid Parchment is hopeful that the findings will steer government and CHEC away from Goat Islands.


"It's important to recognise that the purpose of this study was not to recommend a specific alternative site to Goat Islands but to raise questions in the national interest. We support national initiatives to expand the economy and provide employment, as well as commitments to sustainable development and environmental conservation. Fortunately, this study has shown that it is not necessary to sacrifice the Goat Islands," she said.


Funding for the CSF study was provided by the CEPF, a joint initiative of l'Agence Francaise de Developpement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank.


Those present at the Courtleigh meeting included Opposition MPs Andrew Wheatley and Gregory Mair, a representative of Spanish Town mayor Norman Scott, as well and representatives of the National Environment and Planning Agency, UNEP, IDB, the World Bank, and local NGOs.


Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Omar Davies; Minister of Local Government and Community Development Noel Arscott; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell, as well as representatives of the Port Authority of Jamaica, and CHEC did not show up, although they were invited, Parchment said.


Sixty-three copies of the study were, however, delivered to Parliament yesterday, CCAM said.


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