Sand mining at Duncans Bay – why did NEPA change its mind?

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This is an extremely disturbing turn of events. Duncans Bay has a beautiful beach that also has great environmental value. How can the Jamaican Government support climate change adaptation (and it has expressed concern several times over the impact on our coastlines) – while at the same time allowing the removal of sand from the coast? This does not make sense to me. Anyway, here is a statement from Diana McCaulay, Executive Director of the Jamaican Environment Trust (JET), who has been following this issue for over three years now. I posted their concerns in my January 2014 blog post here
SAND MINING AT DUNCANS BAY: WHY DID NEPA CHANGE ITS MIND?
By Diana McCaulay
July 10, 2017
Diana McCaulayDiana McCaulay, founder/CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust.
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) first learned of beach sand mining at Duncans Bay in Trelawny in January 2014 and has been following the matter since then. JET did an Access to Information request to both the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Mines and Geology Division (MGD) and received several letters and reports on June 26, 2017 (MGD) and July 3, 2017 (NEPA).
By letter dated 12 February 2016, NEPA and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) refused to grant an environmental permit to Duncans Bay Development Company (DBDC) to quarry beach sand at East Duncans Bay. The reasons given were:

  • Significant coastal ecosystem loss, including the loss of sandy beach areas for waterfowl and nesting sea turtles;
  • Negative impact on sand budget resulting in the loss of sand that is required to sustain the shoreline marine ecosystem;
  • The proposed location is a sea turtle nesting site; and
  • Mining is likely to result in an increase in shoreline erosion, inundation of the backshore area due to increased tidal variations and the creation of hyper saline conditions.

The letter also referred to Jamaica’s obligations as a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on wetlands and waterfowl habitat, and gave the avenues for the developer to appeal.
DBDC wrote to the then Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change on 12 April 2016 challenging NEPA/NRCA’s reasons. The proponent referred, inter alia, to a Government of Jamaica-funded study showing that the removal of ‘retired’ sand would have no negative impact on the flora and fauna. This study was also referred to by MGD and NEPA in the various documents received by JET, but the study itself was not provided. JET cannot therefore comment on the robustness of this study. DBDC also challenged the evidence that turtles nested on the beach.
The appeal was heard on 16 June 2016. JET does not know who actually heard the appeal, whether it was the Prime Minister or his delegate, but according to a NEPA document entitled Addendum Appeal Report dated September 2016, the Minister reserved judgment, asked for the MGD study and a site visit to be done by the two state agencies and the proponent.
A section of the beach at Duncans Bay, Trelawny. Is it my imagination, or do some of these look like turtle tracks? (Photo: Contributed/Gleaner)
The Addendum Appeal Report stated that the information from MGD did not conclusively identify the ‘retired’ carbonate sand at the site, which was the critical information needed. A trenching exercise was conducted to establish how much sand was present, but as far as JET has been able to find out, no study was done to establish the replenishment rate of sand at Duncans Bay, how the sand moves along the coastline, where it is held (dunes, backshore, ‘retired’, sandbanks in the sea) or historical rates of erosion. The Addendum Appeal Report from NEPA confirmed the nesting of sea turtles but seemed to accept the unsupported allegation from both MGD and DBDC that the sand had replenished, following previous sand mining. NEPA also noted that the land was privately owned and “to prohibit a person from utilizing the resources on their property may require compensation.” 
Despite repeating their earlier concerns – especially concerning nesting sea turtles – NEPA recommended that the permit be granted with 18 conditions, including the provision of a performance bond. Another condition required that no mining occur during the peak sea turtle nesting season (June to November), but this would not, of course, prevent destruction of the habitat itself outside of those months.
The Prime Minister signed the decision letter dated 3 January 2016 (we assume this is a typographical error, and the date should have been 3 January 2017). This letter to NEPA CEO Peter Knight stated: “After being advised of the arguments presented by both parties and the recommendations provided by NEPA (our emphasis), I have decided to allow the appeal from DBDC, thereby granting the environmental permit… (which) shall be implemented in accordance with the specific conditions outlined in the attachment to this letter.” There were 41 specific conditions attached, but none referred to the need for a performance bond.
The questions which arise are: Did NEPA advise the Prime Minister (or his delegate) to go ahead and grant the permit, despite their earlier contrary advice to the NRCA Board? If so, why? Did NEPA just collapse under pressure, or did the Minister hearing the appeal ignore the recommendations of his technical body to refuse the sand mining permit for Duncans Bay?
Jamaica Environment Trust
Diana McCaulay is the Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust, Unit 5, 123 Constant Spring Road, Kingston 8
Tel: (876 )469-1315               
 
E| jamaicaenvironmenttrust@gmail.com
W| www.jamentrust.org