GOVERNMENT could find itself blocked by a court order if it agrees to site the trans-shipment port on Goat Islands which is part of the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA).
This, as the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) on Thursday announced its intention to take legal action against the State.
"We're going to go into court to get a declaration that the Government holds Goat Islands and the other various resources that are protected in that area in public trust for the people of Jamaica," said JET's legal director Danielle Andrade at a press conference at Alhambra Inn yesterday.
The event was convened after media reports Thursday confirmed that Government and the Chinese investors behind the Palisadoes Shoreline Protection Project and the North South link of Highway 2000 had eyes on the cays.
Andrade said there is not yet a timeframe in which the declaration will be acquired, but that the organisation was moving swiftly to put the court documents together.
"We believe that Goat Island is part of Jamaica's heritage and given the fact that Government has taken the responsibility and the role to protect it, we want to ensure that we get a court declaration recognising that this responsibility does not end with the Government's decision to revoke it and grant a permit for development.
"It's something that we want enshrined in a court declaration and something that will stand up to any attempt to change the area or anything that will go against the conservation of the area," she said.
Minister with responsibility for land and environment, Robert Pickersgill, told representatives of China Communications Construction Company Ltd, during a meeting in Beijing two days ago, that the company's "preferred location" for the logistics hub was being considered.
But JET argues that such a move translates into Government effectively shooting itself in the foot as it was contradictory to its own policies on sustainable development.
Making the point, JET CEO Diana McCaulay pointed out that Portland Bight -- which was declared protected in 1999 -- is governed under three different statues: The Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act, the Fishing Industry Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. The area spans 1,876 km2 from Hellshire in St Catherine to Rocky Point in Clarendon. It has two game reserves, two fish sanctuaries -- at Galleon Harbour and Three Bays -- and is also home to one of few remaining dry limestone forests in Caribbean -- the Hellshire Hills.
The PBPA is the subject of two international conventions -- the UN Convention on Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention, which concerns wetlands.
Closer home, the Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation, which manages the sanctuaries, is in the process of completing a management plan for the entire area, which Government has reportedly already reviewed and approved.
"As executive director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation which works in the Portland Bight Protected Area, we're very concerned that at this stage there is this plan for development and I've had no communication on this from anyone," Ingrid Parchment told the press conference.
"We have been working with the Government agencies, with the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, the Fisheries Division, the Forestry Department, the Urban Development Corporation to complete a Portland Bight Protected Area Management Plan, for which the Minister of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change has already written a foreword in which he has committed to working with us to manage the natural resources, the natural and heritage sites within the PBPA," she continued.
A copy of the foreword was circulated at the press conference. It said, inter alia, "The PBPA, which is the largest protected area in eh island...contains a wealth of natural resources. Its mangroves and other areas of habitat to some of Jamaica's endemic and endangered species, including several species of marine birds, iguanas, crocodiles, manatees, sea turtles and fish. The Protected Area also contains a growing number of housing developments as well as commercial and industrial enterprises, all of which could potentially affect its wildlife and natural resources".
The plan, Parchment said, is expected to be completed in another month.
Addressing the value of the PBPA, JET and C-CAM referenced livelihoods for the 4,000 fishers who work in the area, increased food stock as a result of the fish sanctuaries, protection from hurricanes as per the mangroves, and the largely undisturbed limestone forest which is home to several endemic species.
Large-scale port development, they argued, would necessitate massive dredging in order for ships to enter. This would cause irreversible damage to the protective reefs and mangrove stock
"Government itself recognises the value of the Portland Bight Protected Area. It cannot be rational [to have a] Government policy to protect them, to acknowledge their importance then a few years later turn around and annihilate them," said McCaulay
Further, the JET head said if Government went ahead with its plans it would dishonour the recently inked Partnership for Jamaica in which Government, trade unions, academia and civil society groups committed to particular economic, crime reduction, and energy diversification goals in the context of social dialogue and participatory decision-making.
"It is unacceptable to go about development in this way. We contend that there is a lack of transparency," said McCaulay.