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Gov't hunts grant funding to solve Negril's problems

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Environment editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 20, 2013    

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COASTAL erosion, a dried-out great morass and poor sewage treatment notwithstanding, the Government appears intent on trying to solve the environmental problems in Negril, Westmoreland, despite a woeful lack of funds in its coffers.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), in partnership with other stakeholders, have been going after grant funding to finance various aspects of rehabilitation work that needs doing in the western resort town.

Only recently, details of the US$3-million Conservation of the Negril Great Morass and the Rehabilitation of the Royal Palm Reserve Project was revealed.

That project has as its objective "the restoration of historical hydrological regimes based on localised habitat and priority use requirements; the enhancement and re-establishment of natural vegetation communities that provide habitat to wetland fauna; the elimination of conflicts that degrade biodiversity and ecosystem functions; and the implementation of institutional arrangements to ensure long-term sustainability of the wetlands."

In short, the Government is looking at resuscitation of the wetlands in the area and the education of communities to bring people up to speed on how their actions impact the environment and, by extension, their bottomline over the long term.

But its efforts do not end there.

Through funding made available via the Adaptation Fund — set up to finance counter-climate change efforts in the developing world — the Planning Institute of Jamaica has included work in Negril as part of a new climate change adaptation project.

The work, which is to cost some US$5.4 million, is to see the installation of two nearshore breakwaters — 1,055 metres long — "to fill the break holes in the coral reefs," according to Sheries Simpson, manager of the Projects Planning and Monitoring Branch at NEPA.

"We are installing the two breakwaters to [see to the] all-important function of the coral system to break the waves," she told the Jamaica Observer.

There is, too, a $40-million project, financed through the European Union and the United Nations Environment Programme that is being undertaken to support activities for the improvement of conditions in Negril.

Activities under this project include the replanting of seagrass, the installation of data loggers to record sea temperature changes, the installation of mooring buoys in the marine protected area, assistance to the Negril Environmental Protection Trust to prepare a management plan for the marine protected area, and the promotion of alternative livelihoods within this area.

According to Simpson, it is all part of a wholistic and sustainable approach to solving the challenges in Negril, in the absence of a lump sum of money to tackle them.

"Money has been thrown at Negril for years but we have not seen sustainable results. This time around, although it seems as if it is a piecemeal approach because of how the funds are coming, we are addressing the problem so that we will see better long-term effects as it relates to ecosystems restoration (beaches, seagrasses and coral reefs), biodiversity conservation and sustainable land use," Simpson told the Jamaica Observer.

Consultants SmithWarner International had, in a 2008 report on restoring Negril's beach, which has been retreating between one and two metres annually over more than a decade — made a slew of recommendations, all of them, Simpson said, "hard engineering solutions."

They included:

* beach nourishment in both Long Bay and Bloody Bay under phase one of the project;

* installation of nearshore breakwaters in Southern Long Bay under phase two;

* reef extension structures in Central Long Bay under phase three; and

* reef extension in Northern Long Bay under phase four.

According to Simpson, they still intend to pursue those options but it cannot be done in isolation.

"The solutions they are suggesting was costing us US$27 million, but it was impossible for us to find all those funds at this time, and so wherever we get the funds, we try and do aspects of the work — particularly the most urgent things first. For example, under the Adaptation Fund project, we are taking one of the solutions [they proposed], which is the installation of the breakwaters," she noted.

"Tied in with that — aside from the installation of the breakwaters — is another component, which we are working with the Ministry of Tourism and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management on: developing guidelines and standards for shoreline protection and development."

At the same time, she said they had to be mindful to get good bang for the buck.

"The solutions they [SmithWarner] are proposing are really just band-aid solutions if you don't have a wholistic approach to everything else. You will put down US$27 million and it will all just wash away," Simpson predicted.

It is against this background that NEPA is also looking at the planning aspect of things in Negril. For example, Simpson said a determination has to be made as to the carrying capacity of the area.

"Can it take anymore? Should we relocate people? All of these things we are looking at," she told the Sunday Observer, adding that it was especially important given the development applications NEPA receives.

"It is critical because NEPA, on a monthly basis, gets a series of applications for developments within Negril and surrounding areas, so we need to know how much more the area can take in order to inform our application process," Simpson said.

Later, she said, they will "draw a line where no more development happens".

"We are going to be drawing a line in the morass to indicate where there is to be no more development and making it legal so we can start prosecuting people if they go into the morass," she said, adding that they should have something tangible to show the people of Negril by the end of the financial year.

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