Stiffer fines coming for environmental breaches
A section of the sand dunes at Great Bay in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says the country's environmental laws will be amended to impose more stringent fines on persons found guilty of breaches.

The objective, he said, is to deter illegal activity that pose a threat to the country's natural resources.

Speaking with journalists during a tour of the sand dunes at Great Bay in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, on Friday, Holness said that some of the country's natural assets are under serious threat as they are being exploited for economic gain.

"There are some people who believe in exploiting our natural assets as a form of wealth creation but if it is done improperly, it is also destroying the economic assets and wealth," he pointed out.

He noted that earlier this year, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) served an enforcement notice and cessation order on an individual who carried out illegal sand mining at the Great Bay sand dunes.

The person was subsequently arrested and was charged and fined $15,000 after pleading guilty to the offence.

The prime minister said that the fine was "paltry" and the Government intends to work diligently to strengthen the laws to deter further illegal sand mining.

"It is clear that the Government has to take legislative action in increasing the fines. It is not just in the area of the environment but right across the board," he noted.

"What we are facing is that the society is advancing very quickly; private initiative is moving very quickly and there is a threat to our social order. We need to ensure that the legislative framework matches the energy that exists for growth and development and also for deviance in the country," he added.

Meanwhile, Holness announced that a policy has been developed to reclaim environmental assets that are located on privately-owned properties to ensure greater protection of ecologically sensitive natural assets.

He said that the next step is to establish legislation for the acquisition of these natural assets for preservation for future generation.

"We have concluded that for greater protection, ecologically sensitive natural assets should not just be protected by law enforced on private owners but where the sensitivity is significant, that Government should seek to reclaim those to own them. This would mean we have to engage the owners and buy those properties," he explained.

"So we have developed the policy and we will be moving to legislation shortly to put in the regulations and laws for the Government to be able to acquire ecologically sensitive natural assets," he said.

Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Matthew Samuda, who was also on the tour, noted that sand dunes play a crucial role in protecting coastlines from erosion and flooding.

They act as sand storage areas that can supply material for eroded beaches and also provide an important ecological habitat.

Minister Samuda assured residents off Great Bay, who are concerned that the removal of the sand could cause flooding, that the Government is working to rehabilitate the area.

"We are looking at nature-based solutions as well as potentially, the need for hard infrastructure if that is what is needed, to ensure that the community is protected," he said.

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