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Story Highlights

  • Port Authority instructed to continue its assessment and monitoring of Goat Islands
  • MoU signed between the Port Authority of Jamaica and China Harbour Engineering Company
  • The period of assessment is one year and is expected to be completed by the end of April 2014

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies has instructed the Port Authority to continue its assessment and monitoring of Goat Islands and the greater Portland Bight protected area.

Dr. Davies made the comments during a statement on the proposed Chinese investment in the Portland Bight Protected Area in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 10.

He explained that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Port Authority of Jamaica and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), under which CHEC would carry out investigations to determine whether it would enter in to a definitive agreement for the development of Fort Augusta as a trans-shipment port.

He noted that CHEC, having completed its assessment of Fort Augusta as trans-shipment hub came to the conclusion that it did not sufficiently qualify for such a development, partly because the scope and nature of its proposed work project had expanded.

Dr. Davies further stated that as a result, Cabinet on April 21, 2013 approved an Addendum to the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the Port Authority and China Harbour Engineering Company to allow the investors to undertake the necessary feasibility studies/due diligence of the project.

“This would include consideration of the technical, financial and environmental factors, to facilitate the refinement of a final proposal that would be submitted to the Government of Jamaica,” he stated.

The Minister noted that the period of assessment is one year and is expected to be completed by the end of April 2014.

“At that time a decision will be made as to whether to proceed to a conclusive agreement, providing that all social, developmental and environmental issues have been addressed and the requisite regulatory permits are in place,” Dr. Davies said.

“Whilst this assessment is being carried out, officials of the Government of Jamaica in particular those from the Port Authority, have remained in constant dialogue with CHEC. It is through this interaction that the Government was informed that CHEC’s first choice for the proposed development was Goat Islands and lands to the north on the mainland,” he added.

He noted that it was consequent on these developments that, the Port Authority had been mandated to continue its assessment and monitoring of the proposed project area to undertake detailed environmental and feasibility studies. The Authority will also offer effective guidance to the investors about the required development processes, as well as the approvals needed before any final proposal is put to the Cabinet for consideration.

“In this regard the Port Authority has commissioned an Environmental Management Scoping Project to identify precisely the levels of interest in Portland Bight and the principal bio-physical and socio-cultural characteristics,” Dr. Davies said.

He said some of the objectives of this study include: determining the geographic boundaries of the Portland Bight Protected Area; archival research on the historical use of the area; and identifying applicable international and national environmental policies, legislation, regulations and standards for the area.

The study will also seek to: identify the biologically sensitive features of the marine and terrestrial environment; determine the location of rare, threatened and endangered species and their spatial distribution in the Portland Bight and Ridge Area and the Goat Islands; and identify the boundaries of fish sanctuaries.

The Works Minister noted that when the Environmental Scoping Project is completed, the resultant data will be used to inform the composition of the terms of reference for the Environmental Impact.

Meanwhile, Dr. Davies said that when development is proposed in or near to rich environmental areas, it is expected that concerns will be raised. He however noted that, given the present stage of the process some of the statements that have been made and the opinions and positions taken, “are premature”.

“Still, such public discourse is a healthy part of how we, as a nation, move forward on important issues,” Dr. Davies said.

The proposed investment of approximately US$1.5 billion would, represent a key development milestone for Jamaica and could have a significant positive impact on the country’s development agenda, he stated.

“Although we are bound by the terms of the MoU whilst the feasibility studies are being undertaken, we are also aware that in the absence of some information about the project, it is easy for speculation and suspicion to be cultured,” Dr. Davies said.

“Therefore, it is important that we allow the process to take its course and await the findings from the Port Authority and CHEC so that all issues could be put to proper assessment and determination,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Davies is inviting those who oppose the project to present some alternatives, which would simultaneously protect the natural environment, as well as assist the country.