War brews in Negril

Group vows to resist construction of offshore development

BY HORACE HINES Sunday Observer reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, December 20, 2014

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NEGRIL, Westmoreland — Chairman of the Negril Beach Restoration Committee Daniel Grizzle has promised to seek legal recourse to prevent the construction of two offshore breakwaters in the Long Bay area of Negril, Westmoreland.

"We will be seeking legal advice. We may have lost one battle, but the war is not ended as yet. The battle is not yet over and we are prepared to take it to where it has to go. We are prepared to put up our money because our investment is at stake. The survival of the economy is at stake, and yet these people are taking it lightly," Grizzle complained to the Jamaica Observer.

"They may be taking it lightly because they might not have any investment here, (but) we have our investment here, this is our country."

President of the Negril Chamber of Commerce Ray Arthurs also expressed that the business sector would be unrelenting in their quest to prevent the breakwater system.

"We are not stopping here. We are going to get to the bottom of this. You cannot force something on us. If it doesn't work what happens? Million and million of dollars are invested here. We are the movers and shakers and we say we don't want this and you are going to force this down on us? We say it is bad for business. If it doesn't work what happens? Are you going to give us a guarantee for our livelihood if it is lost? It's a half-baked idea that they are pushing," Arthurs stressed.

Last week, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority's (NRCA) announced that approval was granted for the building of the breakwaters to arrest sand erosion along the popular Negril beach.

Hotelier Winthrope Wellington was among those who expressed disappointment over the approval.

"I am extremely disappointed in the manner in which it was approved. As a community its something we have been fighting against, and truly believe, environmentally, this is the wrong answer," bemoaned Wellington.

"We feel like our opinion and scientific opinion from foremost experts have not been taken into consideration. It really, really makes us question what's going on here."

Meanwhile, Grizzle and Arthurs, who are also hoteliers, are among several business interests in the tourism resort town vehemently opposed to the controversial off-shore breakwaters.

Like a number of other Negril business interests, they both expressed their preference for beach nourishment for the rehabilitation of the Negril shoreline.

"Nowhere in the world are they putting in breakwaters. All scientific evidence suggest that there is no doubt that it will be a disaster, and they have access to the same information that we have," Grizzle rued.

The Negril Beach Restoration Committee head noted that the construction of breakwaters will not only have a negative impact on Negril's economy, but nationally.

He reasoned that the national economy, which earns US$600 million annually from the tourism industry in Negril, will not slow down with the implementation of the beach nourishment procedure, which will last a much shorter time than the approved breakwaters.

The beach nourishment procedure is said to take between six and eight weeks, while the construction of breakwater is projected to take 12 to 16 months.

Meanwhile, Arthurs argued that motor vehicular traffic will grind to a snail's pace, resulting in severe back-up of traffic in the town, when the over 20 trucks are transporting the large boulders to be placed in the sea.

"We have evidence that, when they were putting in the sewage line here, West End properties died for five years. We have seen it. The same thing is going to happen again and we haven't learned anything from the past," a fuming Arthurs expressed.

In the meantime, Grizzle is of the view that Government is planning to shore up the economy with the US$5 milllion put aside by the Adaptation Fund to curve the sand erosion.

He conceded that the foreign exchange would leave the Jamaican shores in the pockets of the experts who would carry out the beach nourishment, but noted that that would be a small investment in comparison to the US$600 million which is raked in annually from the tourism sector in Negril.

"If they should do what is suggested doing soft engineering sand beach replenishing, foreign boats would sail in the water and those foreign boats would spend six to eight weeks. And at the end of that the job they would sail away with US$5 million; sail away with about 95 per cent of that money. They would come in with all the technology, with all the equipment, and within a few weeks they are gone. If you do breakwater, an entire US$5 million... it is serious Jamaican money being injected in the Jamaican economy. You can furnish your faithful with a contract," Grizzle stated.

"There is no other explanation why you would take the risk with the environment, risk with the area which is contributing over US$600 million per year, risk for the unknown that all the experts we have spoken to -- all the experts we have brought here -- say its a risk."

The Negril Chamber of Commerce in a news release revealed that assistance has been sought of Professor Edward Maltby, professor emeritus of wetland Science, water and ecosystem management at Liverpool University in the UK, a global wetland expert, to evaluate the controversial plan to build two breakwaters in Negril.

"Professor Maltby has worked in Negril previously, where he helped with the independent environmental assessment of the proposal to mine peat for energy production from the Negril Morass in the early 1980s. This resulted in the decision not to proceed with the development proposal and highlighted the importance but fragile nature of the wetland and coastal ecosystems," a section of the news release stated.

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