Video: Negril danger
Popular tourist resort will continue losing 1 metre of beach annually, unless...
BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
If the Negril breakwater project fails to get off the ground, Jamaica's third-largest tourist resort area will continue to lose one metre of its famous beach each year, according to officials of the implementing agencies.
However, despite the urgency for the protection of the shoreline, the project, which should have started last year, has again missed another deadline to facilitate the ongoing consultation with some stakeholders who have strongly opposed the project.
Manager of projects at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) Sheries Simpson, who was part of a panel addressing the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange yesterday, said the public will be informed when a new start date is finalised.
"It was our intention to start at the end of March. We should have started from last year, but because of everything that's happening we have had to revise the timeline, and so we will inform the public as soon as we get the go-ahead to do so," she said.
But until the project gets off the ground, the beaches continue to be threatened by intense wave actions.
"If we do not construct we will continue to have this net loss of one metre per year, because we are noticing that the areas that are most severely eroded are the areas where the gaps are in the coral reef, and those are the two areas that we are trying to now plug. Persons in Negril are saying that their beach is growing, however, the beaches that are growing are those that are immediately protected by the existing coral reef structure. The ones that are disappearing are those in line with the holes in the reef," she explained.
According to Simpson, steps have been taken to address some of the concerns raised by those persons who are opposing the project.
Among those measures being examined are for the boulders, which are to be used to construct the breakwater, to be transported to the site via barges instead of being trucked through the town. The plans to dredge the mouth of the river have also been cancelled with the intention now being to focus on only the area where the boulders are to be stockpiled.
And as for concerns that the construction will cripple businesses for a long time, S
lated to be completed within eight months and should only go to 11 months if the work is delayed by natural disasters.
Environmentalists had also voiced concerns about the scarring of the hills from where the boulders will be removed but, according to Simpson, the boulders will only be acquired from a licensed quarry, which would have already met the criteria for mining.
Explaining the importance of constructing this reef extension system, Simpson said climate change has triggered more frequent and extensive weather systems, resulting in increased wave actions and subsequent rapid erosion of the coastline.
That, she said, has happened in Negril, Hellshire, Alligator Pond, Portland Bight, and in other areas around the western and southern coasts. The problem is further compounded by the rapidly degrading coral reefs which act as natural barriers to the wave actions.
"What has happened in Negril is that the majority of the coral reefs that use to break the waves naturally have died. The coral structure is not growing as it was 40/50 years ago. As a result of that, we find that the waves coming on sure in Negril are coming more intensively," she explained.
This, she said, has resulted in great displacement for individuals and businesses that operate along the beach and whose livelihood is affected by the erosion.
The breakwater project, which she said should now be referred to as reef extension, was designed to address the growing concerns of affected persons.
Simpson explained that over the last 30 years the beach has been disappearing at a rate of one metre per year net, which means that while some beaches are experiencing erosion, others are growing due to sand movement.
"We looked at how we could alleviate the losing of the sand and we did a design phase to look at the type of structure and how it would benefit," she told the Monday Exchange.
Simpson explained that there are two major gaps in the reef structure in Negril which cause the wave actions and this project will be putting down the structures to 'plug' the holes in the coral reefs.
Since the start of the project two years ago, Simpson said there has been detailed examination of the designs and testing of the efficacy of the structure.
"We went to the University of Delaware that created 3-D models of the structure and simulated waves and they did different wave types and wave strengths to model a structure which could withstand a category five hurricane or a 100-year return hurricane with the types of waves that Negril would see," she said.
This was followed by an examination of the environmental impact of constructing such a structure on the seabed. As such, she said, they are now ready for construction to begin.
The construction will be undertaken by the National Works Agency, which has responsibility for coastal defence.
Last November, the works agency was granted the requisite licences for dredging of an area to stockpile the construction materials, for the actual construction of the structures and for the foreshore management.
Simpson made it clear that the structures to be put down will not look similar to those constructed at Palisadoes in Kingston as they will not be on shore but submerged a mile out at sea.
"Some parts of it is submerged enough so that regular fishing boats can sail over it," she said.
Project manager of the Adaptation Fund Programme at the Planning Institute of Jamaica, Sheila McDonald-Miller, said the consultations were held even before the proposal was submitted to the Adaptation Fund.
"It's not the entire Negril community that is opposing the breakwater. We have an influential group of persons, but they are not the whole community, and so one of the things we want to place on record is that we will continue the dialogue and will continue to use the best technical competence and skills available to us so that whatever we eventually put down will be able to withstand scrutiny," she said. "We believe that this is the best solution now, given the current circumstances and resources available to the country."
The project has received the biggest allocation of US$5.4 million under the Government's Adaptation Fund Programme.