Environment concern over land reclamation in marine park

Environment concern over land reclamation in marine park

Sunday, January 26, 2020

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A controversial land development in The Lagoons residential community in Montego Bay continues to draw the ire of neighbours who still question how it got approval from the country's environmental authority.

At a meeting of the community yesterday, residents unanimously raised questions about the development and its environmental impact, and charged the management committee to continue pressing the issue from a legal perspective and with the Government as well, as the work being carried out by the owner of lot#34 “is against The Lagoon's rules.”

Last Friday, Lagoons Chairman Yoni Epstein expressed concern about the development, especially the impact it has had on the marine park.

“The development at lot#34 in The Lagoons is a travesty and should never have been approved,” Epstein told the Jamaica Observer. “The concerns of what it may do to the environment are already showing and it has changed the shoreline forever. No other development in The Lagoons has taken reclamation to this level, and reclaiming Crown lands has its consequences too.”

Lot #34 is owned by Starfish Bay Holdings of which Dr Guna Muppuri and his wife are the beneficial owners. The matter of the development of the lot has been in the media for some time now and Muppuri has assured that he is building in accordance with the permits he received.

Epstein explained that all lot owners in The Lagoons sign to a contractual maintenance agreement that speaks to many things, but in the case of construction it requires them to present all drawings required by the State authorities in order for the Lagoons' architectural committee's nod before seeking approval from the relevant authorities.

“In this case, Dr Muppuri got his approvals from the St James Municipal Corporation in order to build his house and the committee reviewed it to ensure that it met all of the architectural guidelines, which it did, and the committee granted him approval to build his home,” Epstein said. “We could not grant approval for his foreshore reclamation work because we hadn't been presented with the necessary construction drawings for that aspect of his development.”

He said that after several back and forth discussions a site plan was sent to the committee in October 2018 showing the approval Dr Muppuri received from National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). On seeing the plans the members of the committee had several concerns, among them that Muppuri is seeking to reclaim around 5,000 sq ft of Crown lands outside of his land boundary and buffer boundary that goes into the water.

“What this means is that he is essentially leasing land from the Government of Jamaica. This also means that he will be going out 100 ft into the water to build a rock groyne, and based on the site plan that was shared with the committee it will host a putting green, a swimming pool, massage tables, saunas, bathrooms, a bar, a grill, a dock and a beach. The committee also has issues with the setbacks of these permanent structures and potentially they will block the view of his neighbours, which is against the architectural guidelines of Lagoons,” Epstein said.

“The bigger issue for the community is the environmental impact of this reclamation,” he said, adding that although Muppuri was given approval by NEPA, the community is of the view that individuals cannot reclaim lands that belong to the Crown.

“Let's also remember that the waters that surround the Lagoons development is a fish sanctuary and marine park. We feel that there could be several environmental issues here and we are seeking assistance from the environmentalists in this matter,” Epstein said.

The Sunday Observer was unable to get a response from NEPA and attempts to contact Dr Muppuri were unsuccessful.

Epstein said in October 2019 the committee felt it necessary to call an extraordinary general meeting in order to discuss other matters in the community along with the issues at lot 34.

“A quorum of 69 voting members was established at this meeting and after a very animated discussion, which included a presentation by Dr Muppuri, the community voted unanimously against the foreshore reclamation approval that Dr Muppuri had received from NEPA. The community requested him to redesign the site plan and not to pass the buffer zone that is on his title,” The Lagoons chairman said.

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