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Portland was where the Jamaican tourist industry was born, and probably

best represents the hope for a vibrant eco-tourism. For years,

people have been complaining about the state of the road

John Maxwell                                                                                                                                             Gerd Jarchow

 
 

 Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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Open Letter to Gerd Jarchow

By John Maxwell

 

Your Excellency

I am addressing you by way of this open letter, because I believe Jamaica should be aware that you are the only person now capable of stopping what appears to me to be an  illegal environmental outrage  paid for by the European Union, of which you are the representative in this region.

You may or may not be aware that the Government of Jamaica has employed all manner of subterfuges and stratagems to avoid its responsibilities under the NRCA law and various national and international regulations and conventions.

Since this is a serious charge, and because it also involves agencies and citizens of the European Union operating in Jamaica, I believe it is proper that I should explain exactly what I mean.

•  In its dredging of Kingston Harbour, recently completed, the government’s Port Authority held two meetings, both called at relatively short notice, at which various stakeholders were presented with the PAJ’s plans for the refashioning of Kingston Harbour and its environs.  These meetings did not, as they should have, involve all the interests involved and all the communities to be affected by this major project. They certainly did not take account of all the objections raised to the project. In the result, an enormous amount of toxic material was redistributed in the harbour and outside, without due care for the welfare of the fishermen or of the people living round the harbour, including the population of Portmore. There were several other objectionable features, including the destruction of fishing grounds, spawning areas, and other ecological vandalism.

• In its design and implementation of Highway 2000, the government held one or two allegedly public meetings at which a fraction of those affected by the road were able to be present. Since the road cuts right across Jamaica it would have been expected, according to the rules laid out in the NRCA law and regulations, that public meetings would be held at convenient locations along the proposed highway, to inform people of what the possible effects would be.

• In relation to this highway, the government additionally proposes to devastate an area of world-class ecological interest ­a place called Harris Savannah, upon which it is proposing to build a smaller version of Portmore. As far as anyone knows, the planners have not yet even established where the water will be found to supply this misbegotten ‘development’.

More important, the planners have paid absolutely no attention to the valuable ecological resources which they will devastate.

• In relation to the North Coast highway, as far as I can gather, only the most cursory attention has been paid to the concerns of those affected by the road. Again, this is contrary to the NRCA law and regulations.

The EU’s complicity

The European Union was involved with the dredging of Kingston Harbour, providing funding for the end stage of the process, the Kingston Container port. An EU contractor was involved in the dredging.

Another EU contractor Bouyges ­ is involved in Highway 2000.

The EU’s funds are financing the Ocho Rios to Port Antonio section of the North coast highway which is being constructed in the same slapdash, public-be-damned fashion as the other projects.

What is striking about all of these projects is that they were a long time in the design stages, but it was only at the very end that anyone gave any thought to the public interest and to the various laws, regulations and conventions which were in my opinion, being broken left, right and centre. This administrative chicanery is then used to abort public discussion and to prevent public participation in decision-making.

In the latest section of the North Coast highway, as usual, the government agency involved, the National Works Agency, has given short shrift to the concerns of the public. The NWA is proceeding full speed ahead on the ground that if the project is not completed on time the funds will be lost (which you know is a lie) The NWA disregards the sentiments of the people by proclaiming: -

“The primary objective of the project is to rehabilitate a road, which has outlived its original design life and does not satisfy today’s traffic demands and conditions. The fostering of economic diversification through improving conditions for tourism development and by so doing also contribute to increased export earnings, employment and social development in the project area is a secondary objective. The purpose is to improve, in a sustainable fashion, a key section of primary infrastructure and the result will be the reconstruction and improvement of 120 km of road to a maintainable standard. The project is not a tourism development project” (my emphases)

The above quotation is taken from a letter from the North Coast Highway Improvement Project to an NGO in Portland, and is dated November 13, 2003.

The letter and the sentiments contained in it are clearly meant as a rude brush-off to those who consider that the road will be an environmental disaster as it is now being implemented, and that engineering considerations are paramount.

Your Excellency will be familiar with the terms of the Aarhus convention, which attempts to protect the European environment and to give Europe’s citizens the most transparent access to the decision making process. Clearly, the convention must also apply to projects funded by the EU, as the convention cannot envisage that European companies or individuals should be permitted to vandalise any other environment simply because it is not European. In fact the convention specifically, in its preamble, makes just that point, pointing out that among its motivations are:

“… the need to give explicit consideration to environmental factors at an early stage in the decision-making process by applying environmental impact assessment, at all appropriate administrative levels, as a necessary tool to improve the quality of information presented to decision makers so that environmentally sound decisions can be made paying careful attention to minimizing significant adverse impact, particularly in  a transboundary context,”

The letter from the NWA  threatens the dissenting voices by saying that the project may lose funding because  “We are presently confronted with individual claims and verbal advises that actions (legal and publications) are under preparation to ensure that individual conditions are met, which unfortunately could jeopardise the entire project and in the worst-case-scenario lose the funding by the European Union for the entire road.” (Sic)

This is nothing short of  (ungrammatical) blackmail and it is blackmail invoking the EU as godfather.

I cannot believe that your principals, conscious of the devastation and human disasters precipitated in Europe by the “Might is Right” doctrine, could possibly endorse such neo-brutalist approach. But, since you are paying for the road, it is clear that you are complicit since the NWA says:

“It should be noted that the law requires an Environmental Assessment Study for the entire project, reviews and updates if necessary and done. This was considered sufficient by the European Commission as the institution providing the funding in form of a grant. There are no legal requirements for environmental assessments of individual short road sections in cases where an existing road is being rehabilitated and improved. The works envisaged do not constitute new construction. “

What the works agency is saying here is that your approval trumps everything else, because the Jamaican law certainly requires EIAs for any change of use, extensive land clearing, road construction or any other activity which will disturb the environment to any noticeable degree. And EIAs are public documents, for public discussion and decision.

Portland is Unique & Precious

As you must know, since you have been resident in Jamaica for some time, much of the charm of Jamaica is in small, mini-ecosystems. The Portland ecosystems are particularly valuable, not only because of the unparalleled scenic grandeur and lushness, but also because they are home to several endangered species, including the largest butterfly in the northern hemisphere the spectacular Blue Swallowtail.

Portland was where the Jamaican tourist industry was born, and probably best represents the hope for a vibrant eco-tourism. For years, people have been complaining about the state of the roads, but to complain about the surfaces of beautifully scenic drives is not to ask for an autobahn to be driven through pristine forest.

There is always a civilised way to accomplish anything, and in landscapes such as Portland any civilised person should realise that the soft way is in this place, the only way. The roads can be improved without the insensate brutality of the National Works Agency.

Additionally, the NWA in my opinion, has got its rights of way by allowing many people in the area to be misled. The NWA has announced that “up to $100,000” will be given to squatters who voluntarily relocate. What seems to have happened is that many people believe that each squatter will get 100,000 dollars. The truth, of course, will be revealed when they have relocated and the road is built over their small holdings. To me, this procedure smacks of deception and fraud. But it is an inevitable result of a process which keeps people in the dark and glorifies highfalutin blah about progress.

I am sure that you will agree with me that it is not progress to bulldoze ancient wildlife refuges, to scarify and maim beautiful landscapes. The charm of Portland lies in its serenity, its tranquillity, its feeling of being outside the rat race world.

Why should the Government of Jamaica/NWA and the European Union join together to destroy it? Have the EU and its minions no time for beauty and serenity?

I am sending a copy of this letter to various international environmental NGOs, who, I am sure, will be outraged that the EU should be involved in such an avoidable catastrophe.

Please accept assurances of my highest consideration for yourself, the people you represent and for my beautiful and wounded homeland.

John Maxwell

To: H.E. Gerd Jarchow,

Head of Delegation

European Union

Kingston, Jamaica.

Copyright ©2003 John Maxwell  maxinf@cwjamaica.com

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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