Highway blamed for environmental damage

Highway blamed for environmental damage

Property owners seek public defender’s help; say once beautiful Old Fort Bay now a virtual mud hole and garbage dump

BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor publications davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, August 06, 2016

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Property owners in Old Fort Bay, St Ann have sought the intervention of the public defender in a dispute they are having with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) over what the describe as "disastrous" environmental damage" to the bay caused by the north-south leg of Highway 2000.

"What was once one of the most beautiful beaches and bays in Jamaica is now a virtual mud hole and garbage dump," property owner and attorney Stephen Shelton, QC, wrote in a letter to Public Defender Arlene Harrison-Henry on June 15 this year.

Shelton told the public defender that the property owners have had numerous meetings with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), CHEC, and the National Road and Operating Constructing Company (NROCC). However, to date, the problems still exist despite what he described as "inadequate attempts by CHEC" to remedy the situation.

"We the owners of the properties in the area have suffered and are suffering severe losses as a result of the environmental problems which have resulted from the construction of the highway," Shelton said as he asked the public defender for a meeting with the property owners.

Yesterday, Shelton said that he has since heard from Harrison-Henry, who has asked for more information.

"The questions she has asked and the information she has requested are indicative of someone who is looking into the matter," Shelton told the Jamaica Observer. "We have been in touch, but I am awaiting a formal response."

The property owners’ complaints stem from deposits of marl, silt and garbage washed into the bay due to what they have found to be inadequate drainage and unprotected cut escarpment along the highway.

An e-mail trail obtained by the Sunday Observer showed that the problem was apparently first noticed in October 2014.

"The trash and plastic problem is coming from the gully to the west and river to the east on both sides of the beach and, I suspect, will continue for years to come unless there is a continuous campaign to clean those gullies regularly," one property owner wrote on January 26 this year.

"The last heavy rain before last night’s was in November 2015 and brought down more rocks, causing me to have to remove six 25-yard truckloads of marl stones that washed from the gully onto the beach (as opposed to 26 truckloads the previous time before... China Harbour and NEPA did the site inspection December 2014), so whatever measures they took appears to have mitigated that somewhat (I hope they can maintain and clean those catchments when China Harbour is done and gone). However, we have not had as significant a rain event since Nov/Dec 2014 and I am holding my breath to see what happens when we do," the property owner added.

"The ongoing problem we have and the major environmental issue — apart from the trash and plastic debris — unfortunately will continue unless addressed, and that is the marl sludge which, for the last 15 months, washes continuously into Old Fort Bay from both gullies (primarily Harbridge Gully to my western boundary), causing the sea to have a muddy brown white chocolate colour with tons of sediment settling on the sea floor and choking the coral polyps, killing the reefs, sea grasses, and marine life... that muddy colour lasts for weeks after any rain at all and is both ugly and sad..."

In an apparent response to the property owners’ concerns, NROCC commissioned Stanley Consultants, an America-based international engineering, construction and environmental engineering services company, to provide an assessment of the erosion and sediment transport observed within the watershed and outfalls draining to Old Fort Bay and Mammee Bay .

In its report dated July 31, 2016, the company said that there is evidence that erosion has occurred as a result of the construction of the road, and that the resulting sediment has been transported from highway-impacted watersheds to the streams outfalls at the Caribbean Sea.

"There is evidence that the erosion continues to occur and sediment is transported downstream of the watersheds at a less significant rate. However, a significant storm event may occur in the very near future and may cause additional significant erosion and sediment transport damage," Stanley Consultants said.

"The transported sediment appears to have caused secondary damage to marine environment, causing environmental, economic and recreational damage. In addition, there are breaches to the NEPA permit as a consequence of the construction of the highway," the company added.

"The first incident of sediment associated with the construction of the highway impacting the Old Fort Bay community and marine environment occurred between December 2014 and January 2015, resulting from rainfall in the upper watershed in the construction areas," the report noted.

"The sediment was primarily conveyed by flows associated with the Harbridge Gully and the drain that flows through the roundabout connecting the north-south link to the North Coast Highway. In addition to sediments being transported from the construction site, a large amount of debris (garbage) that was dumped in the waterways was also washed downstream to the Old Fort Bay community, mostly through the drain at the roundabout.

"In response, CHEC proposed and constructed seven temporary check dams at strategic locations within the watershed to try and contain loose construction materials onsite or near to the site. They also installed trash racks at the roundabout to prevent debris from being transported to the community and the beach areas," the consultants reported.

However, the reported stated that two recent rain storms — in November 2015 and on April 23, 2016 — caused noticeable impact to the Old Fort Bay nearshore areas by sediments.

"The November rainfall event is reported to have caused the most sediment transport because of the sediments stockpiled on a staging area on the car route. These sediments are reported to have been washed out and transported as suspended sediment to the watersheds outfalls at the Caribbean Sea," the company reported.

The company said its field visit found a lack of proper modelling, design and adequate construction for the current mitigation measures and recommended that they be revised.

Meanwhile, the property owners commissioned a study of the nearshore area of the bay from a local coastal and environmental engineering firm, Smith Warner International.

In its draft interim report dated June 29, 2016, Smith Warner said its analysis of samples taken from the bay and its surroundings showed "a very high percentage of silt" in Old Fort Bay compared to neighbouring areas.

"For example, samples have 32 per cent, 62 per cent and even 91 per cent silt," the report said. "A controlled sample collected to the west (in front of the Riu hotel) has only eight per cent silt. The Riu sample is more typical (but above ideal levels) of the silt composition in this sort of marine environment on the north coast of Jamaica. This shows that there are fairly high and unusual deposits of silt in the nearshore area of Old Fort Bay. It should be noted that silt in the marine environment is usually brought in by gullies or rivers from loose material on land."


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